NEW YORK, Feb 21 (Reuters) - A judge threw out
controversial new eligibility requirements for New York City's
homeless shelters Tuesday, the latest development in a
decades-long legal battle over the city's homeless policies.
State Supreme Court Justice Judith Gische ruled that the
policy had been instituted in violation of the city charter's
vetting process, which requires a public hearing and other
procedural steps for all new agency rules.
The city's Department of Homeless Services in November
approved the new application process, which requires individual
men and women seeking a bed at city shelters to prove they had
nowhere else to go. The policy, intended to reduce the number of
applicants, was castigated as "cruel and punitive" by Christine
Quinn, the city council speaker and an expected mayoral
candidate in 2013.
The policy would be similar to that in effect for more than
a decade for homeless families seeking shelter. It would require
individual adults to provide information, including documents
where possible, about their recent housing history and financial
City officials have estimated the policy will save $4
In November, the Legal Aid Society filed suit, claiming the
new policy violated a landmark 1981 case, Callahan v. Carey,
mandating that the city provide shelter for all homeless.
The current case, however, was brought by the city council
-- the first independent lawsuit filed by the council against
Mayor Michael Bloomberg since Quinn became speaker in 2006 --
and challenged the policy strictly on procedural grounds,
asserting that the new rules should have been subject to public
Tuesday's ruling did not address the substantive claims made
by Legal Aid. Instead, Gische said, the city will have to go
through a public hearing process to implement the new policy;
the Legal Aid Society could then pursue its challenge once the
policy has been approved.
The commissioner of the homeless services department, Seth
Simon, said in a statement that the city would appeal Gishe's
"Judge Gische's disappointing decision does not undermine
the City's strong reasons for developing this common sense
procedure, nor does it make any determinations about its
legality other than ruling on the method used to issue it," he
The new policy would effectively turn away 10 percent of the
20,000 homeless men and women who pass through New York's
homeless shelters every year, according to Legal Aid.
"This was a wrong-headed policy that put a burden of proof
on people who could least shoulder it," said Quinn and Annabel
Palma, who chairs the council's general welfare committee, in a
The city's charter requires that all new agency rules go
through a rigorous public vetting process. Under the charter, a
"rule" includes any regulations that take away an agency's
discretion and mandate certain outcomes, Gische wrote.
The city had argued in court that the new eligibility
requirements did not rise to the level of a rule, since the
Department of Homeless Services could still exercise discretion
as to whether to admit an individual into a shelter.
But Gische rejected that argument, holding that the new
policy does mandate certain results that the homeless services
department cannot ignore -- for example, any applicant who
refuses to cooperate cannot be given a bed.
In 2009, as a result of a Legal Aid lawsuit, Gische ordered
the city to stop systemic use of overnight-only beds, forcing
the city to add hundreds of shelter beds, according to the
The case is In the Matter of the Application of The Council
of the City of New York v. The Department of Homeless Services
of the City of New York et al., New York State Supreme Court,
New York County, No. 403154/11.
For the council: Jeffrey Metzler, chief of litigation for
the New York City Council
For the city: not immediately known
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Additional Reporting by Jonathan
Allen and Jessica Dye)
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