City Loses First Round in Legal Dispute Over Stricter Shelter Rules

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A court ruled Tuesday that they city cannot move forward with its requirement for homeless single adults to prove they have no other place to go before being found eligible for shelter.

According to the decision by State Supreme Court Judge Judith Gische, the city failed to follow proper administrative procedures before implementing the rule, which was to go into effect last November.

The rule was immediately challenged by Legal Aid and the City Council on the grounds that it violated a longstanding consent decree as well as city administrative procedures that require new rules to be vetted by the city council as well as the public prior to implementation. The judge agreed on the latter point. The consent decree issue is still pending.

The city sought the stricter eligibility requirements because, it argued, more single adults are coming from having lived with family or friends and the city believes they could potentially return to them rather than stay in a shelter.

The stricter eligablity requirement would also allow the city to find deny shelter to individuals with substance abuse problems if a room could be found at a treatment program instead.

The city has estimated that if the rule is implemented, about 10 percent of applicants would be found ineligible for shelter — a projected savings of $4 million a year. 

The city has said it would appeal the judges ruling. At a press conference Tuesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city would do everything it can to move forward with the policy, “or let the judges explain to the public why they think that you should just have a right to walk in and say, whether I need services or not, you give it to me.”

But homeless advocates argue that the vast majority of people seeking shelter are either mentally or physically impaired individuals who would find it difficult to abide by the stricter rules requiring them to prove they’re truly homeless. The city has said those determined to be mentally ill would be exempt from the rules but advocates predict many would still fall through the cracks and end up sleeping on city streets.

“Our city’s homeless people need to be helped — not hindered — in their efforts to locate shelter,” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said in a written statement. “The court’s confirmation that policy changes such as this one must be subject to public notice and comment will ensure that we will be able to work with DHS to create a new policy that will protect, not hurt, the city’s homeless."