Citing the recent arrival of 65,000 asylum seekers, Mayor Eric Adams has reportedly asked a New York State judge to approve suspension of the city’s so-called “Right To Shelter” mandate, which requires New York City to provide clean and safe shelter to every homeless person who asks for it.
The city first agreed to provide such accommodation as part of a 1981 settlement to a suit brought by advocates for the homeless who claimed that the accommodation was implicitly required by a provision of the New York State Constitution. The pertinent passage is as follows:
“The aid, care and support of the needy are public concerns and shall be provided by the state and by such of its subdivisions, and in such manner and by such means, as the legislature may from time to time determine.”
The settlement spelled out that the constitutional provision should be construed to mean that the City “shall provide shelter and board to each homeless man who applies for it provided that (a) the man meets the need standard to qualify for the home relief program established in New York State; or (b) by reason of physical, mental or social dysfunction is in need of temporary shelter.”
It also set forth extensive standards that shelters were required to meet subject to court monitoring. While the original settlement, which was merged into a “consent decree,” covered only needy men, over the years subsequent iterations expanded the language to cover women and families with children as well.
In a letter last week to the deputy chief administrative judge for New York City Court, the City asked for changes that would allow it to suspend the aforementioned duty to provide shelter if the City “lacks the resources and capacity to establish and maintain sufficient shelter sites, staffing and security to provide safe and appropriate shelter.” The letter stressed that the “unprecedented demands on the city’s shelter resources confront the city … with challenges never contemplated, foreseeable, or indeed, even remotely imagined.”
The New York Times reports that city officials now say that more than 70,000 migrants have arrived since the spring and more than 40,000 are in the city’s care.
The city has not received a response from the courts, but there has been pushback from advocates for the homeless. The Legal Aid Society, which filed the initial lawsuit that resulted in the Right to Shelter settlement, and the Coalition for the Homeless issued a joint statement opposing the city’s move.
“The administration’s request to suspend the long-established constitutional right that protects our clients from the elements is not who we are as a city,” they wrote. “We will vigorously oppose any motion from this administration that seeks to undo these fundamental protections that have long defined our city.”
We have two related questions here: If Mayor Adams is successful in getting a court dispensation to suspend shelter aid to homeless migrants, what happens to them? Do they magically disappear because a court order is issued?
And if the advocates for the homeless successfully prevent the city from getting relief in court, where will the resources to uphold the obligation to provide shelter suddenly come from?