Tighter Restrictions on Homeless Shelters


By Michael Bezares

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has filed suit against Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposition aimed at tightening restrictions against homeless people needing a place to stay. This proposed measure will require people applying for shelters to prove that they have no other alternative.

Under the measure, the Department of Homeless Services will interview applicants extensively in order to prevent “fraudulent applicants,” as stated in the DHS guidelines. Applicants’ family and friends could be interviewed as well.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn

Quinn, representing the city’s homeless, filed suite in conjunction with The Legal Aid Society and Coalition for the Homeless (a group who provides advocacy, legal and research analysis for the homeless population).

What does that mean for the vast amounts of homeless requiring shelter? A homeless adult would need to prove that family and friends are not willing to take them in, and that they have exhausted every option in order to be considered for placement.  If the individual has boarded with a friend or relative in the past, they would have to get written and/or verbal proof stating they are no longer allowed to stay at the location. Opponents to the measure say this process could mean more homeless in the streets because of the hassle in obtaining such proof.

“The shelters are everybody’s last resort anyway,” says Jonathan, a shelter recipient who asked his last name not be used. “Nobody wants to be here going through all this.” He is among those awaiting to be processed at the 30th Street Adult Family Intake Center in Manhattan. “I don’t have anywhere else to go,” he says, grabbing his laundry bag and moving forward to keep his place in the line.

At a City Council meeting in November 2011 Quinn voiced her concern, saying the proposal is “irresponsible” and does nothing to alleviate the source of the homeless problem. She says the rule will force the homeless into the streets with nowhere else to turn to for help.

According to the city’s Department of Homeless Services, the rules already coincide with current regulations that require families with minors to prove they have no other alternative for shelter.  With the continued cutbacks on social programs citywide, individuals most affected by Bloomberg’s proposal will be single homeless adults—including the mentally ill and those with a history of substance abuse.

The rule was going to take effect November 14, 2011. But it was postponed after the City Council approved Quinn’s petition to file suit against the Bloomberg administration. The legal action stems from Quinn’s claim which accuses the administration of not allowing the public enough time to comment on the proposal.

General Welfare Committee Chair, Councilwoman Annabel Palma (D-Soundview), says her committee stood ready to dispute the proposal, but the Bloomberg administration has been largely absent of productive dialogue.

Defending Bloomberg’s proposal, DHS commissioner Seth Diamond said in a November 9 meeting that 60 percent of males currently seeking shelter had already been staying with friends and family before they arrived for assistance. In order to ensure those who truly need the assistance receive it, the measure will protect the integrity of the proposed standards.

“It’s the city’s responsibility to check and make sure only those who truly need the services of the city shelters are accepted,” the DHS says on its website. “It’s the responsibility of the applicant to submit proof that they have nowhere to stay.”  The regulation will also disqualify those applicants even if the assistance received by family or friends is temporary.


According to the Legal Aid Society, the Bloomberg administration claimed the proposal would save the city an estimated $4 million. But the DHS Commissioner says the policy’s motive is not financial.

On a “State of the Homeless 2011” report, the Coalition for the Homeless stated that over 113,000 thousand single adults and families utilized the city’s shelter systems in 2010—an all-time high since 2002. They say those numbers continue to rise because Bloomberg’s failed policies.

In addition, there are widespread complaints of unsanitary conditions and safety concerns in city shelters.  A rampant bed bug problem, theft of personal items, and child safety issues are some of the problems the city’s Department of Homeless Services cautions applicants about.

Help is certainly needed in economically disadvantaged boroughs like the Bronx, with the growing number of homeless. The Bronx has the highest level of low-income residents—a number that hasn’t experienced significant declines in years. These issues are aggravated by the tough economic climate and the city’s dwindling budget. With the cold weather, The Bronx and the rest of the city’s homeless will have to hope the New York City Supreme Court’s impending decision on the proposal will be in their favor.

The first court hearing was on December 9, 2011. But a preliminary decision on the matter has not yet been reached.

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