More than 60 single men experiencing homelessness were denied their right to shelter in New York City. According to a joint statement from the Coalition for the Homeless and Legal Aid, this breach is immoral and illegal.
When Seeking Shelter in the City that Never Sleeps Becomes an Exhausting, Futile Endeavor
It was a Monday night in Manhattan, New York. The city that never sleeps was already supplying approximately 57,381 beds to people experiencing homelessness. Those beds were provided by the Department of Homeless Services, a corporation that has designated shelter to approximately 7,000 asylum seekers in light of recent violent conflicts. Yet, even as wary individuals and families hunkered down in a DHS shelter for the evening, 60 single males were turned away from an East 30th Street intake facility in what has been deemed the city’s third violation of its right-to-shelter law.
Right to Shelter: What is it and Why is it Unique to New York City?
A groundbreaking 1979 lawsuit entitled Callahan v. Carey laid the foundation for what is now known as NYC’s “right-to-shelter law.”
During that particular case, lawyers defending a houseless man named Robert Callahan cited this clause in the New York State Constitution:
“…the aid, care and support of the needy are public concerns and shall be provided by the state and by such of its subdivisions.”
The lawyers successfully argued that this statement afforded all homeless men the irrevocable right to shelter within New York City’s homeless system, which was later extended to women and children in subsequent revisions in the early 1980s. As reporters at The City point out, this legislation isn’t the result of a single meager policy or bill. Rather, it is the result of years of ongoing court cases and established text from the state’s constitution.
To that end, New York City is the only municipality with a right-to-shelter law encompassing families and individuals. It’s notable to mention that Massachusetts features similar legislation for families with children but does not extend the right to individuals. This is important because, according to NBC 4 New York, the unhoused persons denied shelter most recently consisted of precisely 60 single males, all of them turned back out onto the harsh streets of the Big Apple.
NYC Mayor Eric Adams Claims the Law Encourages the Relocation of Houseless People from Other States
In a perfect world, all individuals and families would have an irrevocable right to permanent, affordable housing. In a semi-perfect world, all states across the U.S. would, at the very least, have similar right-to-shelter laws in place. But here in the real world, the one city mandated to offer shelter beds to everyone in need is being inundated with an influx of unhoused individuals and families, at least according to that city’s mayor.
In an official statement on the issue, Mayor Eric Adams said, “In some instances, families are arriving on buses sent by the Texas and Arizona governments, while in other cases, it appears that individuals are being sent by the federal government.”
Arizona and Texas governors both vehemently denied this claim, adding that they were, in fact, placing asylum seekers aboard buses, but that those buses were destined for Washington and never sent to New York City. In a bitter twist of irony, Mayor Adams accused both mayors of lacking compassion for asylum seekers.
Herein, a startling trend is evident. Politicians shuffle unhoused individuals and families all across the country, willing to place them just about anywhere except in permanent housing. The abhorrent tactic of sweeping human bodies back and forth favors nobody, not even the politicians, who continue to engage in the practice. Whether governors and mayors are busing people from one location to the next is neither here nor there because a more pressing issue lies beneath this argument.
The City of New York Likely Had Enough Beds to House the 60 Single Men
Data presented to NBC4 New York News, the outlet that broke the story, indicated approximately 669 vacant units were available on the night in question. However, reporters were unable to verify those specific numbers independently.
The fact remains that this is most certainly a lose-lose situation for everyone involved. If there were sufficient vacancies and members of the homeless community were intentionally turned away, this proves negligence and the inability to provide even the most basic rights.
If vacancies in NYC’s shelter system are insufficient and at capacity now, before the harrowing chills of winter have even set in, then this means homeless services are severely underfunded citywide. However, that’s not what the mayor of New York City seems to be taking from all of this. His stance is not exactly in line with his thoughts on showing compassion, to put it mildly.
In Response to Violating Homeless People’s Rights, Mayor Adams Moves to “Reassess” the Right-to-Shelter Legislation. Does That Mean Abolish It?
New York City rents reached record highs this year when homelessness is soaring, and war is breaking out all across the globe. People are so far down on their luck that they live in the sewers.
Amid all this, Mayor Eric Adams wants to “reassess” the city’s unique right-to-shelter law. Some housing advocates suspect that by “reassess,” he means to abolish or, at the very least, limit. In a statement published by the New York Times, Press Secretary Fabien Levry stated, “No city official, advocate, or court could have contemplated the unprecedented crisis. We’re saying the whole system needs to be reassessed.”
Reassess the Whole System by Making Permanent Housing a Human Right in Every State
There lies no doubt that the system needs to be reworked. But not in a way that restricts the few housing rights available in the few states that have these policies on the books. A better way to reassess the system would be to make permanent housing a legislated human right in every state across the nation. People would never be turned away from shelter if they didn’t need that shelter in the first place.