The 1981 agreement on homeless should be reopened by the courts to deal with the current flood of migrants
On Aug. 26, 1981, two years after a lawsuit was filed against the state and the city for failing to take care of the homeless on the streets, an agreement was struck under the auspices of the court, called a consent decree. That document, in the case of Callahan vs. Carey, and the similar cases that followed, dictates how New York must house people, with details about square footage and beds and the numbers of showers and sinks and toilets and lighting and so on and so forth.
Robert Callahan, the named plaintiff, lived on the streets and died on the streets in 1980, before the matter was settled. Hugh Carey, the named defendant as governor, left office at the end of 1982 and died in 2011. Ed Koch, the mayor at the time who had to carry out the requirements, concluded his term at the end of 1989 and died in 2013. Richard Wallach, the judge on the case, who issued the decree and oversaw the city’s compliance, died 20 years ago.
We offer the history lesson and the obituaries to show that the regime for housing the homeless was created long ago and it does not adequately address a new dire and urgent situation that was never foreseen by any of the parties at the time, including the lawyers who brought the case on behalf of Mr. Callahan and other homeless men.
What has happened is the arrival of tens of thousands of migrants, asylum seekers legally here while they await hearings on their applications.
Said Deputy Mayor Anne Williams-Isom on Wednesday, a day after city lawyers petitioned the court to reopen and modify the Callahan decree, “we now have more asylum seekers in our care than we did the homeless folks that were in our care when we came in at the administration, which is about 45,000 people.”
Mayor Adams is running out of money and room as the migrant flow continues. The court should heed his request and be reasonable in an unprecedented emergency.