RIGHTS OF FALL

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On October 30, the City Council took another swipe at drafting a bill to improve services for the homeless. This bill, though, might share the fate of its predecessor–vetoed by the mayor.

In the next few weeks, the council is slated to vote on a bill of rights for the homeless that will set a 200-resident limit on new homeless shelters, mandate yearly reports to the Council and improve case management for people waiting to see if they qualify for shelter.

It will also turn the Department of Homeless Services into a subsidiary of the Human Resources Administration and make the soon-to-be appointed homeless agency head a deputy commissioner of HRA. This move was designed to mollify Mayor Giuliani, who opposes the bill but wants to see DHS folded back into HRA.

However, the parts of the bill most objectionable to the mayor, the homeless rights themselves, have not changed much between the two versions. And many predict that if the bill passes the council, the mayor will veto it again.

The council already passed one homeless bill of rights in June. Because DHS has been rapidly downsized in recent years, the earlier bill included language that would have allowed the council to control staffing levels in the agency- but that provision also left the bill vulnerable to a court challenge. In the new version, the provision is gone. By folding DHS into HRA, the Council hopes to save DHS jobs by shifting downsized employees into jobs at the bigger agency.

Observers argue that shifting the agency won’t make a big difference. “No matter where the Department of Homeless Services is located…what’s critical are the conditions under which homeless people are placed,” said Steven Banks, director of Legal Aid’s homeless rights division.

In the end, however, the biggest winner in this administrative shuffle may be interim DHS head Muzzy Rosenblatt, who had been first deputy commissioner under the now-departed Gordon Campbell. Sources close to the agency say the thirty-something Rosenblatt is the front-runner and would have a better chance at the job if DHS were a subsidiary agency. Says one city official: “[The agency] would benefit with HRA as the administrator rather than risk putting [an independent] agency in the hands of a young commissioner.”