NYC Faces Legal Challenge Over Decision To Move Homeless New Yorkers Back to Shelters

The city’s decision to move homeless New Yorkers from hotels back into congregate shelters is being challenged in federal court.

On Thursday, the Legal Aid Society filed a motion in the Southern District of New York, arguing the city was violating its obligations to provide accommodations for homeless New Yorkers who are disabled under a settlement reached back in 2017. The group says homeless residents are being moved back to shelters without a proper assessment determining whether disabilities and health issues they have require them to remain in hotel rooms. The suit was filed on behalf of residents that are being transferred, the Coalition for the Homeless and the Center for Independence of the Disabled.

During the pandemic, the city transferred around 10,000 homeless people from congregate shelters, where eight to 12 people on average share a room, to more than 60 hotels across the city in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some New Yorkers objected to the relocation, but city officials said it worked, preventing a serious spread of the coronavirus. They also argued the move was always meant to be temporary, and last month, with infection rates dropping and vaccination increasing, the city began relocating residents into shelters, with the goal of completing the process by the end of July.

The de Blasio administration officials said those who have a disability or medical condition would be able to apply for a reasonable accommodation.

Josh Goldfein, staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society, said the city hasn’t been living up to that promise.

“The city is required to conduct a thorough assessment of every homeless New Yorker who requests a reasonable accommodation and for those New Yorkers whom the city knows has a disability, health ailment or other issue,” he said. “With these transfers, that process was entirely ignored.”

The city has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Over three days in June, the Department of Homeless Services moved around 650 residents from hotels to shelters, including those who had an approved or pending reasonable accommodation request, according to the court filing. One of those residents is a plaintiff in the case, identified as PM, who uses a wheelchair and needs a joint replacement in his right knee. He was moved to a shelter without an accessible shower or bathroom.

“Mayor de Blasio’s insistence on a chaotic, ill-conceived move of vulnerable homeless people from hotel rooms to congregate shelters defies logic and compassion,” said Deborah Diamant, director of government relations and legal affairs at the Coalition for the Homeless. “The pandemic is not over, especially for our clients, many of whom have disabilities and medical conditions.”