News: Homeless Workfare Plan, NY Times, 2/20/99

Proposition One Committee (
Sat, 20 Feb 1999 08:30:53 -0500

New York Workfare Rules to Be Extended to Homeless

By NINA BERNSTEIN, February 20, 1999 NY Times

Backed by state regulations, the Giuliani administration
is preparing to make workfare and other requirements a
condition of shelter for the 4,600 families and 7,000 single
adults in New York City's homeless shelter system, said city
officials with knowledge of the plans. 

The change would also make the city's homeless shelters use
the same system of rules, work requirements and sanctions
that its welfare offices have used to move more than
400,000 people off public assistance. 

Until now, shelter has been considered a form of aid
separate from cash relief, and for two decades the legal
right to be sheltered somewhere by the city has been almost
unconditional for the truly homeless. But under the state
regulations, which were passed in 1995 but not used in the
city because of legal challenges, shelter is simply another
part of public assistance, and to keep a bed, shelter
residents must meet welfare eligibility standards. 

Although the city says the rules will push people to become
self-reliant, advocates for the homeless contend that the
changes threaten to send hundreds of homeless children and
adults onto the streets. 

No other city in the nation offers shelter as a right, or has as
comprehensive a publicly funded shelter system as New
York's. Elsewhere in the state, where the regulations have
taken effect, some shelters have been forced to close
because the regulations made their shelter budgets plummet
with the welfare rolls, pushing many people onto the street. 

New York City has not set a firm date to start following the
state rules, but three of four court decisions on the matter
have gone against advocates for the homeless, and the city
has been quietly making preparations for systemwide

The rules require nonprofit agencies operating shelters
under contract to the city to expel any homeless adult or
family cut from public assistance, and if children are in
jeopardy, to make a referral to child protective services for
possible foster care placement. Though about half the single
adults and most of the families in the city's homeless shelters
are already on public assistance, all would be newly
vulnerable to expulsion under the regulations. 

Under workfare, those who get aid are required to work at
city jobs, including cleaning parks and performing clerical
tasks, in exchange for their benefits. 

Last month, the city began requiring all men who apply for
emergency shelter at the central intake center on East 30th
Street in Manhattan to undergo "finger-imaging" by the state
computer system used in welfare offices for identification,
said Jack Madden, a spokesman for the State Office of
Temporary and Disability Assistance. 

A team from the city's welfare agency has been inspecting
all shelters under contract to the city, including programs for
the mentally ill, and asking how many residents are capable
of work and which programs could be equivalent to a
35-hour work week, said providers whose shelters were
inspected recently. 

A plan to create a job center especially for the homeless,
where shelter residents could be required to report in order
to keep their beds, has been under discussion for months,
said Debra Sproles, a spokeswoman for the city's welfare
agency, the Human Resources Administration. She said that
the location under discussion is a vacant welfare center at
East 131st Street and Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive to be
renamed "Riverview," but she declined to provide other

Federal law requires only half the welfare caseload to be
employed at any one time. But Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani
has vowed to have every recipient of aid doing 20 hours of
work, plus 15 hours of work-related activities like
education or drug treatment, by 2000. Under current welfare
rules, single adults who miss a single hour of work can see
their entire case closed. Last year, 69 percent of these home
relief clients in the work program were removed from the
rolls, for several months at least, city records show. 

This week, the State Court of Appeals dismissed a motion
by advocates seeking permission for a further appeal of the
rules as applied to homeless families. A court hearing is to
be held on March 11 on whether applying the regulations to
homeless adults violates a 1981 court decree in which the
city guaranteed a mattress, clean sheets and soap to every
homeless man, a legal right to shelter later expanded to
women and families. 

"We believe these regulations will help families move
toward independent living," Susan Wiviott, a spokeswoman
for the city's Department of Homeless Services, said
yesterday. "We're working out how to implement the
regulations best." 

Since the 1980's, a variety of mechanisms have made entry
into the shelter system harder and discharge easier, but
making shelter depend on eligibility for welfare would
dwarf past changes, providers said. 

Asked about the preparations this week, Jason Turner, the
city's welfare Commissioner, would say through a
spokeswoman only that there had not been a shift in
homeless policy. But at conferences and in meetings with
shelter providers, Turner has expressed concern that some
who were cut from welfare have been able to go to shelters
and food pantries without restriction, sidestepping sanctions
intended to push them to self-sufficiency. 

Ms. Wiviott said the city has agreed to give Steven Banks,
director of the Legal Aid Society's Homeless Rights Project,
a five-day warning before applying the state regulations to
homeless families. 

Banks has vowed to mount a new legal challenge on the
basis of a 1985 court ruling that children cannot be placed in
foster care for lack of housing. 


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