New York homeless policy change called "cruel"

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 29, 2011 7:39 PM
New York homeless policy change called "cruel"

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The New York City Council voted on Tuesday to sue Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration over new eligibility requirements for homeless shelters that the council speaker described as "cruel and punitive."

Christine Quinn, the council speaker, said the policy was "cruel and punitive and wrongheaded" and would result in homeless New Yorkers being "sent out into the street".

She said the mayor's administration did not follow required procedures in drawing up the policy change.

"The public has to have opportunity to comment. I would argue that it hasn't happened because it's a bad policy and you don't promote things you're not proud of."

The lawsuit would be the first independent suit against the mayor's office during Quinn's tenure as speaker since 2006.

Seth Diamond, the commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services, told Reuters the proportion of people in shelters coming directly from living on the streets has decreased to about 15 percent from 33 percent five years ago.

"The overwhelming majority of people are coming from living with someone else," he said. "The system has developed so that people use it as a first option. We think it should be for people who have no alternatives," Diamond said.

"If you're there because you've had a fight with your mother or your brother, we can help to step in to mediate," he said.

The policy would require adults seeking shelter to provide information, including documents where possible, about their recent housing history and financial resources.

Diamond said the policy was designed to help staff better advise single people. It was based on a similar admissions policy in place for the last 15 years for homeless families, which has also been criticized by City Council members.

He said that anyone who genuinely needed shelter would still be provided a place to stay under the new policy. About 8,500 individuals, not including families, stayed in city shelters on Sunday night, Diamond said.

The new policy would save an estimated $4 million from the department's $800 million budget, Diamond said.

The Bloomberg administration has agreed to postpone implementing the new policy, which had been due to start on November 14, until a judgment was reached in an earlier lawsuit filed in state Supreme Court by the Legal Aid Society, a not-for-profit legal organization for low-income New Yorkers.

Speaker Quinn said the council's lawsuit will likely be filed by mid-December.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)