Legal Aid lawyer points at hole in NYC’s plan to lift right-to-shelter: ‘It’s not thought through’
A Legal Aid Society lawyer who’s set to lead the court fight against Mayor Adams’ proposed right-to-shelter rollback said Thursday that the mayor’s plan contains a “bizarre” contradiction that could draw scrutiny from a judge — providing a preview of how arguments may play out in the high-stakes case.
On Tuesday, lawyers for Adams asked a Manhattan judge to let his administration suspend the right-to-shelter law, which requires the city to provide a bed and basic amenities to anyone who needs it. The request cited the migrant crisis, which has put immense pressure on the local shelter system, and proposed that the city be allowed to deny shelter to people whenever it “lacks the resources and capacity to maintain sufficient shelter sites, staffing and security.”
Ed Josephson, a supervising attorney at Legal Aid who’s part of a team of lawyers expected to challenge Adams’ court request, said he fears the ask, if approved, would result in migrants sleeping on the streets since there’s no indication they will stop arriving anytime soon. He questioned how that squares with Adams’ pledge to combat homelessness.
“Mayor Adams says he does not want people sleeping in tents, he does not want people sleeping on the subways, so the real question is: Where does he think people are going to go?” Josephson told the Daily News, referring to the migrants.
“Is he going to blockade the bridges and keep migrants from coming into the city? I don’t think his plan can make sense even to him. It’s not thought through.”
Josephson added: “Human beings have to go somewhere. The migrants are coming here, you either shelter them, find a way to put them in apartments or they end up in public spaces.”
Legal Aid will submit a formal response in court opposing the Adams administration’s filing in coming days, a spokesman said.
Josephson also voiced concern about the long-term consequences of Adams’ proposed right-to-shelter overhaul.
“The scope of what they’re asking for from the court goes way, far beyond anything related to the migrant crisis. They are not asking for anything temporary, or tailored to the immediate,” he said. “They want to change the rule that’s been in place for 40 years and say that the city can deny shelter anytime they declare that they lack resources.”
An Adams spokesman did not return a request for a response to Josephson’s comments.
Though his administration’s court request explicitly asks for clearance to suspend right-to-shelter, Adams and his chief counsel, Brendan McGuire, have been reluctant to elaborate on the filing.
In a press conference Wednesday, Adams said the request is about getting “clarity” on right-to-shelter at a time that the city shelter system remains at capacity, housing nearly 100,000 people — about half of whom are migrants, with hundreds more arriving every day.
“New York has done its share and we want to go in court and have clarity,” he said.
In a briefing later Wednesday, McGuire would not say what precisely the administration needs clarity on. He hinted at the administration’s potential court strategy, though.
“There’s a constitutional provision that mandates the state and its subdivisions to provide care to the poor. It does not specify a right to shelter,” McGuire said.
McGuire’s comments referenced Article 17 of the state constitution, which holds that “the aid, care and support of the needy are public concerns.” That provision was the foundation of the 1981 Callahan Consent Decree that created right-to-shelter.
Josephson, whose group serves as the city’s de facto watchdog on right-to-shelter compliance, said McGuire is right that Article 17 doesn’t contain the words “right to shelter.”
“But the whole history of the Article 17 provision strongly was intended precisely to protect people’s right to shelter,” he said. “That was the basis for the original Callahan decision.”
Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg unsuccessfully tried to suspend the Callahan decree.
Adams said Wednesday his attempt differs from theirs because “no one had to deal with what I am dealing with right now.”
Josephson disputed the notion that no other city chief executive has had to deal with crises of similar magnitude, noting that Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia was in office during the Great Depression when Article 17 was ratified.
“No one has succeeded in ending right-to-shelter, and Eric Adams is saying that he’s going to be the mayor to do it and that’s just outrageous,” Josephson said. “I don’t think a court is likely to reverse something that is so deeply engrained in both the culture and politics and precedent of New York City.”