Charging that the city is failing in its obligation to house homeless AIDS clients, Housing Works filed suit against the city on June 22 in an attempt to force it to comply with a municipal law that requires medically adequate housing for AIDS patients.
The goal of the suit, says a Housing Works lawyer, is to obtain an injunction that would require the city to provide same-day emergency housing for homeless people living with AIDS. Named in the suit are Gregory Caldwell, deputy commissioner of the Division of AIDS Services and Income Support [DASIS] and Jason Turner, commissioner of the Human Resources Administration, DASIS’ parent agency.
“DASIS has been literally turning people out on the street,” says Armen Merjian, a Housing Works lawyer. “This is a gross violation of human rights and a violation of the DASIS law. It is also a violation of DASIS protocol.”
Local Law 49, passed by the City Council in July 1997, mandates “medically appropriate” housing for DASIS clients, including in-room refrigerators and bathrooms that lock. The DASIS manual stipulates that the agency’s Emergency Placement Unit on West 13th Street must provide same-day housing in emergency situations.
But according to the complaint, a caseworker at the EPU said that “on any given day, 20 [clients] show up at the DASIS offices seeking housing, and maybe four or five get housed.” Housing Works filed the case on behalf of two homeless people with AIDS who have been requesting housing from DASIS for the past four months.
This housing shortage is linked to the seven-month-old boycott of new DASIS referrals by 33 commercial single-room occupancy hotels. As reported by City Limits in May, the hotel owners are refusing new referrals because the city owes them some $3 million in back rent. The number of DASIS clients in commercial SROs has dropped from 1,539 in February to 1,137 in May.
“We are seeking nothing radical,” says Merjian. “We just want the city to comply with its own protocol and the law: same-day placement in ‘medically appropriate’ transitional or permanent housing for people with AIDS.”
“HRA is committed to providing housing support for people with AIDS,” says agency spokeswoman Debra Sproles. “We are pursuing multiple strategies to ensure that people who need housing get housing.”