City Sued For Failing To Provide Shelter

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As the mercury fell this week, Coalition for the Homeless filed an enforcement motion in state Supreme Court against the city for not providing adequate services to homeless men and women.

The suit, filed Wednesday by the Coalition along with the Legal Aid Society, charges that the Department of Homeless Services does not have enough beds to handle the record numbers of homeless New Yorkers, and as a result some have slept on benches while others have been bused to emergency shelters in the middle of the night and forced out at 6 a.m.

The homeless advocates claim the city is violating a 1981 consent decree requiring it to provide shelter to homeless individuals. This comes as complaints also mount against the Department of Homeless Services for its handling of family admissions.

“On a number of nights the city has relegated homeless men to sleep on benches, on the floor or on tables,” the suit says. When they apply to the nearly full shelter system, the men often have to wait for placement and end up without a bed, it claims.

Department of Homeless Services commissioner Robert Hess refutes the lawsuit. “There is no truth to the Coalition’s allegations,” he said in a statement. “DHS is in full compliance with its legal obligations…Any allegations about DHS being over capacity are inaccurate and alarmist.”

As the number of homeless New Yorkers swelled over the summer, the city said it was well prepared for the increased demand. It focused resources on the family shelters, which were seeing more applicants than ever. In July it shifted 15 staff members from its central office to the family intake center in the Bronx. But this lawsuit focuses on individuals.

“Homeless New Yorkers desperately need more shelter beds,” Coalition executive director Mary Brosnahan said in a statement. “Mayor Bloomberg needs to acknowledge that our city is facing an unprecedented homeless crisis as frigid weather arrives, and take action to ensure the safety of our homeless neighbors.”

– Mike Reicher

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