It was not immediately clear how the Adams administration will proceed in challenging New York City’s unique right to shelter. A formal request is due in state court next week.
Mayor Eric Adams is not backing down from a months-long effort to reduce New York City’s obligation to shelter the homeless, even as he defends his right to open new shelters to house an influx of asylum seekers.
Following closed-door negotiations in lower Manhattan Tuesday afternoon, Supreme Court Judge Erika M. Edwards announced that the city has until Oct. 3 to file an updated request to modify the 1981 consent decree in Callahan v. Carey, a lawsuit that established a right to shelter for single men.
New York City is uniquely obligated to provide a shelter bed to anyone in need, at least temporarily—part of a unique set of rules that grew from the Callahan decree.
But in May, Mayor Adams requested permission to pause shelter obligations for single adults in instances where the city lacks necessary resources. The move was in response to an uptick in new arrivals, beginning last spring.
In the months since, city lawyers have been in occasional closed-door negotiations with the state as well as the Legal Aid Society, which is representing the interests of homeless New Yorkers under Callahan.
It was not immediately clear what the city’s updated request will entail. There are currently more than 60,000 migrants in shelter, according to City Hall.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the mayor said the Callahan decree was “never intended to apply to the circumstances our city is currently experiencing.”
“As we continue to seek a national solution to this national crisis, we know the status quo is not working for longtime unhoused New Yorkers or for asylum seekers,” they continued. “We will submit our revised application to modify Callahan next week per the judge’s directions.”*
In August, Legal Aid and Mayor Adams were somewhat aligned in their messaging, urging Gov. Kathy Hochul to ramp up her support for recently-arrived immigrants in the form of additional funding and shelters, including outside New York City.
But Tuesday’s mood was more tense. Josh Goldfein, a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society’s Homeless Rights Project, told reporters that the Adams administration should stand down, especially since recent government actions could alleviate some pressure on the shelter system.
For example, on Sept. 20 President Joe Biden extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) eligibility to Venzuelans who arrived in the United States on or before July 31. Thirty days after applying for TPS, immigrants can legally work—an accelerated timeline complementing ongoing efforts by Gov. Hochul to match asylum seekers with jobs.
And earlier on Tuesday, City Hall announced that it would allow New Yorkers to use their City Fighting Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement (CityFHEPS) rental vouchers statewide, ideally giving families more housing options.
Non-citizens do not currently qualify for CityFHEPS, though City Hall hopes the move will reduce shelter crowding overall.
Advocates have warned that suspending the city’s right to shelter protections would result in more people bedding down outdoors and in public spaces, a dangerous prospect as cold weather sets in.
“It doesn’t make sense at this moment for the city to ask to be relieved of its obligations to protect people from dying on the streets of New York, and we’re hopeful that we get to a place where they don’t need to make that request,” Goldfein said.
Both the Adams administration and Gov. Hochul have been critical of the right to shelter in recent public comments.
“This was intended to help homeless people stay off the streets, help families, but it was never intended to be an unlimited, universal right and obligation to shelter the entire world. And that’s the way it’s been interpreted,” Hochul said on MSNBC last Friday.
And the day before, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Anne Williams-Isom told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer that her team planned to escalate its efforts to modify Callahan.
“We’re back in court next week to really say, ‘I don’t think that the right to shelter as is originally written should be applied to this humanitarian crisis in its present form,’” she said.
Also last week, the Adams administration expanded a policy, announced in July, that imposed 60-day shelter stay limits on adult asylum seekers staying in facilities run by agencies other than the Department of Homeless Services (DHS).
On Sept. 22, City Hall announced that any adult asylum seeker arriving at a city intake facility for the first time would now receive a shortened 30-day notice, along with “intensified” casework to help them plan their next move. Any adult returning to shelter intake following their 60-day ouster will also be issued a 30-day notice.
So far 13,500 60-day notices have been issued, according to City Hall, along with 690 30-day notices.
The majority of asylum seekers currently in the city’s care are parents and children—about three quarters of the population—according to an Aug. 31 census published by the City Council.
Most of these families are staying in DHS shelters. Other shelter facilities are run by New York City Health + Hospitals, Housing Preservation and Development, the Office of Emergency Management, and Department of Youth and Community Development.
Shortly before Tuesday’s court conference in Manhattan, a state judge in Staten Island issued an injunction blocking the city from operating a 300 bed migrant shelter at the former St. John’s Villa Academy Campus. Locals had vehemently protested the shelter.
In his decision, Supreme Court Judge Wayne M. Ozzi called the 1981 Callahan decree an “anachronistic relic from the past” passed to address “a problem as different from today’s dilemma as night and day.”
But a spokesperson for Mayor Adams said the city is “taking steps to immediately appeal this ruling, which we believe is incorrect in key respects and which threatens to disrupt efforts to manage this national humanitarian crisis.”
Filing an appeal will have the effect of pausing Judge Ozzi’s decision, according to Legal Aid, which could in turn prevent the shelter’s closure.
In the meantime, the city has one week to draft its updated request for relief from the Callahan decree. The state and Legal Aid will have until Oct. 11 to respond, and further replies are due Oct. 18.
Judge Edwards recused herself on Tuesday, citing concerns about perceived impartiality, meaning the case will proceed before a new judge.
“The fact that they [the city] are... carrying through with that, asking to be relieved of their obligations under right to shelter, is an escalation,” said Goldfein of Legal Aid.
To reach the reporter behind this story, contact Emma@citylimits.org. To reach the editor, contact Jeanmarie@citylimits.org.
*This story has been updated with comment from the Mayor's Office.