The Legal Aid Society and New York City Council Fight for Rights of Homeless Women and Men‬ ‪

The Legal Aid Society and the New York City Council were in court on January 20 fighting the City's new policy to begin to deny shelter from the elements for homeless women and men.  Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, told New York 1 that "it is unfortunate that it required a court proceeding to keep the City from implementing a new policy to turn away women and men seeking shelter." 

In November, the City had agreed to postpone the implementation of this new shelter denial procedure.  The agreement was reached after The Legal Aid Society commenced litigation in State Supreme Court, New York County to enforce the 1981 consent decree requiring the provision of shelter to women and men who are in need of shelter "by reason of physical, mental or social dysfunction" or who meet the need standard for public assistance.  The City agreed to delay implementation of its new plan -- which represents a sea change in City policy -- so that Supreme Court Justice Judith Gische will have time to review the matter.

Both The Legal Aid Society and the New York City Council are also challenging the City's failure to comply with the City Administrative Procedure Act that requires the City to provide public notice of rules and an opportunity for public comment.  The January 20 court hearing focused on this issue.  At the hearing, the City argued that the shelter denial procedure is not a rule.  Along with NY1, WNBC TV and WNYC Radio covered the hearing. ‬

In addition to representing homeless women and men, The Legal Aid Society is representing the Coalition for the Homeless which is a long-standing Plaintiff-Intervenor in the litigation.  The law firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP is co-counsel with Society.  The Society has represented homeless New Yorkers for some 30 years and Mr. Banks has been lead counsel in the litigation.

New York Nightly News
NBCNY Nonstop New York
January 20

Chuck Scarborough, Anchor:  Well, “Prove you’re homeless or stay away of the shelter.” That’s the city’s controversial new homeless policy. It could be on hold for at least another month. The city has agreed to additional delays during a heated court hearing today. As News 4’s Melissa Russo has the details… 

Melissa Russo, Reporter:  A state supreme court judge grilled lawyers for the city in what some people described as a hair splitting hearing today.  But it wasn’t about whether the city’s new homeless policy was legal, or even whether it was right or wrong. 

News 4 Reporter:  According to the Bloomberg administration, too many people coming into New York city homeless shelters have other places they could stay. So to save money and precious resources, city officials decided to make a change. From now on, they would start asking more questions of the people applying for shelter, and start turning away those with other housing options. The city council felt blindsided that they found out about this policy on News 4. They charged the Bloomberg had failed to follow the law on city rule making which requires public notice in writing, in advance and a chance for the public to comment. 

Christine C. Quinn, NYC City Council:  They didn’t want to go through rule making because this is an unpopular and unfortunate and cruel process. 

News 4 Reporter:  In an unprecedented move, city council speaker Christine Quinn took the mayor to court, claiming bad faith. During today’s court hearing, the city insisted, technically, their change in homeless policy was not a new rule, but rather something they had the authority to do under state law for almost two decades. 

Steven Banks, Legal Aid Society:  If it looks like a rule… if it smells like a rule… if it walks like a rule… it’s a rule.  

News 4 Reporter:  Lawyers for the homeless argued it was disingenuous for the city to claim this was not a rule change, especially since they say it could result in people being put out in the street. 

Steven Banks, Legal Aid Society:  If the city gets away with this, the people who will suffer are very vulnerable New Yorkers who turned to the city as a last resort. 

Seth Diamond, NYC Homeless Services: We do believe we’ve been open throughout… 

News 4 Reporter:  The city’s homeless commissioner disagrees.  

Seth Diamond, NYC Homeless Services: People who have no other options will continue to be let into shelter. This is for people who have other options, and those people will go to those other options… not on the street. 

News 4 Reporter:  At one point, the judge asked, “If the new policy doesn’t change anything, then why do it?”

WNYC 820 AM Radio New York
January 21, 2012
9-10 AM

Host:   Homeless advocates are arguing against the Bloomberg administration’s plans to tighten entrance requirements for city shelters.  The new guidelines would require singles adults applying to prove that they have no other place to stay.  The case was argued in Manhattan’s supreme court yesterday.  An attorney for the legal aid society Steve Banks, says the policy constitutes a new rule, and therefore the city must solicit public comment before implementing it. 

Steve Banks, Legal Aide Society:   The city decided that it would attempt to implement this policy without any public debate, or any public consideration, despite the fact that will have dramatic impact on New Yorkers, whether they’re homeless or not. 

Host:       City lawyers argue that the policy has been around for 17 years, it’s just never been implemented. Judge Judith Gish said it would likely take a month to rule on the case.  The city agreed to put the policy on hold until the court case is resolved.  

News at 11
NY1 New York
January 20th, 2012
11:00-11:30 PM

Lewis Dodley:   Well the wintery weather headed our way, is certainly going to make life on the streets harder for the city’s homeless population and so will a new city policy requiring proof of eligibility for shelter.  Today, the city council and the department of homeless services went to court to fight that policy.  Our Courtney Gross has the story.  

Courtney Gross:  Single men at this homeless shelter may have a tougher time getting in, if the Bloomberg administration has its way. 

Seth Diamond, DHS Commissioner: The shelter is a very critical resource, a precious resource, and before somebody comes into shelter, we want to have a full understanding of if they have other options, maybe living with friends, maybe living with family members, that might be better than having them come into shelter.  

Courtney Gross:  City hall wants homeless single men and women, to prove they have no where else to go, other than a city shelter, right when they walk through the door.  Currently, there are just given a bed.  On Friday, the city council and the Legal Aid Society, took the administration to court over the policy, arguing the city failed to give the public notice on the change, and it also violates it’s obligation to provide shelter.  

Steven Banks, Legal Aid Society:  It’s unfortunate that’s required a court proceeding to keep the city from implementing a new policy to turn away women and men seeking shelter, with snow expected tonight and the cold weather upon us.  

Courtney Gross:  For men seeking shelter at the Belleview, the policy is wrong headed.  

Area Residents:   

The policy shouldn’t be implemented, you know, because there’s a lot of people that have family members, that family members just really don’t want them anyway, you know, it’s not really their fault, that their family don’t want them to live with them.

The Bloomberg administration with this shelter system, it’s just like chaos, and it’s not because the people in the system, it’s because the system is not run right.

Courtney Gross:  The case has become a rare battle between the Bloomberg Administration, and city council speaker Christine Quinn. 

Christine Quinn, City Council Speaker:  I think the city has done a very, very misguided thing, by their proposal to basically interrogate single homeless individuals, when they’re seeking shelter.  

Courtney Gross:  It’s unclear when the judge will decide whether or not the city gave enough notice to the public on its new shelter policy.  Then the court will eventually determine, whether or not the entire policy violates it’s obligation to provide shelter. In lower Manhattan, Courtney Gross, New York 1.