Number of Homeless Families Explodes; Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Expresses Concern Over City's Plans

Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, expressed concern about the City's plans to move forward on policies such as expelling families from the shelter system and putting their children in foster care which were harshly criticized during the Guiliani Administration. "It is pretty surprising to see the Bloomberg Administration moving forward with these types of policies," Banks told Cindy Rodriguez of WNYC and WNPR.

“It’s striking that the current city administration and the current state administration would be returning to these shelter-termination regulations, which are really a relic of another, harsher era.” The attempt to evict families from shelters began under Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, an effort that was blocked by the courts. The Bloomberg administration has been no more successful. In 2002, the city pursued a policy that would allow it to eject families it deemed uncooperative, but backed down and agreed to reserve the right to eject single adults, but not families. All of the families who will be subjected to the shelter termination sanction have already been determined by the Department of Homeless Services -- through its extremely stringent Path eligibility process -- to have no other safe or suitable housing available, so the possibility that the families will end up on the streets, that children will end up in foster care, or that families will end up returning to batterers or abusers is all too real.

Banks ultimately settled the longstanding, homeless families lawsuit against the City only because, he says, the City agreed to give homeless families the legal right to shelter – a protection that will remain beyond the Bloomberg Administration. Banks says no other administration was willing to go that far:

"That’s a significant breakthrough but not a referendum on whether or not things are going well and right now things are not going well . I think the truth is the record over the past 8 years is mixed." One of Banks’ major complaints is the Bloomberg Administration’s decision to stop giving out federal housing vouchers to homeless families. The vouchers are coveted and can last a lifetime and city officials saw them as an incentive to enter shelter.