William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Wed, 17 Aug 2005 04:09:29 -0400


Judge Rules in City's Favor on Housing for Homeless Families


Published: August 17, 2005

In a decision that both the city and advocates for the homeless hailed as a
victory, a state judge ruled yesterday that the city does not have to
automatically provide emergency shelter to homeless families who reapply for
shelter within 90 days after their applications were rejected.
The city had been required to provide emergency shelter to such families,
but the new ruling does not require such shelter unless the family's
circumstances have changed.
The ruling, by Justice Helen E. Freedman of State Supreme Court in
Manhattan, effectively ends one part of a protracted legal battle between
homeless advocates, who want to ensure that families in need are not forced
onto the streets, and the city, which has said that repeated applications by
rejected applicants clog the intake process for the family shelter system.
The city, which is seeking to overhaul how it provides emergency shelter to
homeless families, had argued that many rejected applicants had alternative
means of housing, like staying with a relative.
Under Justice Freedman's ruling, the city must follow a strict set of
guidelines to determine whether a rejected applicant who reapplies is then
eligible for emergency shelter. The guidelines state that emergency shelter
must be provided if new facts emerge showing that the applicant is being
evicted; is a victim of domestic violence whose only home is with the
abuser, or whose children are victims of abuse at the family's current
Linda Gibbs, the commissioner of the city's Department of Homeless Services,
hailed the decision, which she said "clears the way to implement the
independent panel's final recommendation to fix the shelter system's broken
front door."
"This is a common-sense response to a long-standing problem, which has
diverted resources and staff attention from families most in need," she
But lawyers for the Legal Aid Society, which, along with the Coalition for
the Homeless, has long challenged the city's homeless policies in court,
said that the judge's ruling was a victory for their side because it
protected children by ordering the city to make sure that alternative
housing was available before denying emergency shelter.
"Our hope is that the city will do what the court ordered," said Steve
Banks, attorney in chief at New York's Legal Aid Society, "In the event that
doesn't happen, the court is there as a last resort."
New York City is the only city in the country under court order to provide
free shelter to the homeless, an order that was entered in 1981.
For homeless families, the journey to a shelter begins with a visit to the
Emergency Assistance Unit in the Bronx, where the family's application for
housing is reviewed and the family is placed immediately in shelter - with
members sometimes sleeping on the floors and chairs of the unit until the
application is decided. The city has said that part of its overhaul would
include razing the unit.