Disabled Homeless New Yorkers Sue City for Putting Them Back in Shelters

Homeless New Yorkers are suing city officials for moving them out of hotel rooms to shelters without notice.

The Legal Aid Society and Jenner & Block LLP filed a motion in the Southern District of New York on Thursday accusing the city of violating its obligations under a 2017 settlement to provide additional accommodations for the disabled homeless.

"The city's rushed decision to arbitrarily move thousands of homeless New Yorkers from safe accommodations back to local, crowded shelters is both illegal and inhumane," Josh Goldfein, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society, said in a statement.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of homeless people were moved into more than 60 privately owned hotels in an effort to curb the spread of the virus. The action "saved lives," the lawsuit stated.

Last month, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city would relocate about 8,000 people experiencing homelessness back into dorm-style or congregate shelters by the end of July.

"It is time to move homeless folks who were in hotels for a temporary period of time back to shelters where they can get the support they need," de Blasio said at a news conference on June 16.

According to the Legal Aid Society's motion, the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) moved 650 residents from hotels to congregate shelters between June 22 and June 24.

The organization said that many of these residents were relocated with little or no notice, "despite the fact that they had a disability which made transfer to a congregate site inappropriate for them under the agency's own standards."

One member of the lawsuit, identified in the court document as "PM," uses a wheelchair but was transferred to a shelter with no accessible showers or bathroom.

Homeless New Yorkers Sue City Over Shelters
Disabled homeless New Yorkers are suing city officials for moving them out of hotel rooms to shelters without notice. A homeless man sits next to the Wall Street subway station on March 23 in New York City. Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

Another member of the suit, identified as "EK," was moved into a congregate site despite suffering from chronic bronchitis, COPD, asthma, bronchial asthma and obesity.

"Many of the class members have disabilities that put them at higher risk of severe consequences if they were to contract SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, and many have physical and mental disabilities that present risk of harm if they were to return to congregate shelter, or otherwise make living in congregate shelter untenable," the lawsuit states.

Deborah Diamant, the director of government relations and legal affairs at the Coalition for the Homeless, called the decision to move the disabled homeless back into shelters "defies logic and compassion."

"DHS must temporarily pause these moves and correct course before homeless New Yorkers suffer any more harm at the hands of the city agency mandated to assist them," Diamant said in a statement.

Isaac McGinn, a spokesperson for the New York City DSS-DHS, said the department will review the specific allegations and related cases referenced in the lawsuit.

"The health, safety, and wellbeing of the New Yorkers we serve as they get back on their feet is our number one priority – that's why we're continuing our comprehensive COVID-19 testing and vaccination programs, making it as easy as possible for our clients to get tested and vaccinated by delivering these free, vital resources directly to clients where they are," McGinn said.

"As we phase out the temporary use of COVID-period commercial hotels, we and our not-for-profit provider partners are also working closely with clients to assess each individual's unique needs and grant their Reasonable Accommodation (RA) requests, through a process agreed to in court, with hundreds of accommodations already granted as we work to meet those needs."

Updated 07/09/2021, 2:49 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with comment from the New York City DSS-DHS.