Cindy Rodriguez is the Urban Policy reporter for New York Public Radio.
Council Challenges Controversial New Homeless Policy
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Before a controversial homeless policy goes into effect on Monday, City Council members questioned whether the city has the proper state approval to implement it. The policy would require single adults to demonstrate they have no other place to go before being considered eligible for staying in a shelter.
At a city council hearing, Council Speaker Christine Quinn told city officials, "Our understanding from the Governor's office is that they have not approved it."
And Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond read from a state letter that said the new policy was "not inconsistent with state laws or regulations."
The new homeless policy is raising questions about a family's responsibility to take in a loved one. The city said a large portion of single adults seeking shelter are coming not from the streets but from places they could potentially return to.
Brooklyn councilman Jumanee Williams told Diamond that the new policy would put relatives in the position of having to take in loved ones even after they had worn out their welcome. "The city is telling people your home must be opened up as a valid resource and shelter for another human being who the city should be sheltering," Williams said.
Diamond responded that families should take care of each other, if at all possible. "The shelter system should be reserved for people who have no other options," Diamond said.
Beyond referring those who say they are homeless back to relatives, the city acknowledged it has suggested, in some cases, that people relocate back to their homelands. Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who represents upper Manhattan, asked, "Isn't that true that some immigrants, they've been asked when they go to the intake shelter if they can take their family back to their country?"
Diamond said all options should be explored. "That could represent a good option for some families." Diamond said any decision to relocate would be voluntary.
The city said all single adults would have the right to challenge decisions they disagree with. "I want to be clear, no one wants to put anyone at risk," Diamond said.
Council members predict that the policy will result in people who are truly homeless returning not to stay with family members but instead to sleep on city streets.