Legal Aid Society


LAS Files to Halt City’s Transfer of Disabled New Yorkers to Homeless Shelters

The Legal Aid Society and Jenner & Block LLP, on behalf of the Coalition for the Homeless, Center for Independence of the Disabled, and homeless New Yorkers, in coordination with the Safety Net Project at the Urban Justice Center, filed a motion in Butler v. City of New York – litigation concerning disability-based discrimination in the City’s homeless shelter system – challenging Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recent order to move homeless New Yorkers who have been living in single- or double-occupancy rooms in local hotels, where they have been sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic, back to local congregate shelters without notice and without due consideration for accommodations they may need for their disabilities, reports the New York Daily News.

The class members of the lawsuit all have disabilities and/or serious health issues that put them at a higher risk of severe consequences if they were to contract COVID-19. The City’s decision to place them in hotel rooms allowed them to safely socially distance, which literally saved lives. In addition, COVID-19 aside, the hotel rooms provided a necessary shelter accommodation for many with disabilities.

Now, the City is circumventing its legal obligation under Butler v. City of New York to afford each class member an individualized consideration in determining whether their disability requires that they remain in a hotel room or be transferred to another site that can accommodate their disability.

Instead, the City is moving class members en masse in a rushed process that puts many of them at risk and subject to irreparable harm. Moreover, many of these New Yorkers, who are at high risk of severe consequences from COVID-19, are living in close quarters with a relatively unvaccinated population which, despite the City’s progress in reducing COVID-19 occurrence, creates the risk of a new super-spreader event.

Since the transfers began, numerous clients have been told they are being moved without being informed of their right to reasonable accommodations (RA) for their disabilities. Those clients who have already been transferred to a congregate shelter were relocated without receiving proper consideration for accommodations for their disabilities, despite serious physical and mental health disabilities.

On June 22, 23, and 24, 2021, DHS moved approximately 650 shelter residents from de-densification hotels to congregate shelters. Many of these residents were moved with no notice; with less than the legally required 48-hours’ notice; despite the fact that they had an approved or pending RA; and/or despite the fact that they had a disability that made transfer to a congregate site inappropriate for them under the agency’s own standards.

“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,” said Josh Goldfein, a staff attorney with the Civil Law Reform Unit at The Legal Aid Society.