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LAS Decries City's Response to Systemic Internet Issues at Homeless Shelters

The Legal Aid Society decried the City’s initial piecemeal response in addressing systemic internet access shortages at local shelters. Legal Aid and Milbank LLP, representing the Coalition for the Homeless, raised these concerns in a demand letter issued on October 8, 2020, to the New York City Department of Education (DOE) and the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS).

Instead of immediately opening broadband-based WiFi networks to ensure that families have reliable access to the internet so students can participate in remote education, the City has instead responded by changing the cellular carrier for some students’ DOE-issued tablets used for remote learning. Clients who were able to receive new tablets report that this trial-and-error approach falls far short of an acceptable solution and continues to disrupt the school day, as some shelters are located in cellular signal dead zones. Despite this ongoing problem, the City is perplexingly resistant to providing broadband-based WiFi in shelters, according to the New York Daily News.

Legal Aid also learned this week that residents of Albermarle Family Residence, Flushing Avenue and Freeman Shelter – in addition to Flatlands Family Residence, Regent Family Residence and Children’s Rescue Fund House East – are dealing with internet access issues similar to those experienced by residents of the Flatlands shelter discussed in Legal Aid and Milbank’s demand letter. In response, Legal Aid is calling on the City to conduct a shelter-by-shelter audit to determine the reliability of each facility’s internet connection to ensure that residents have reliable access and children residing in the shelters can receive a sound basic education.

Lastly, Legal Aid has called for the City to commit to conducting the aforementioned citywide audit and implement an expedited plan to address these systemic internet access issues.

“We…have reason to believe the problem is widespread,” said Susan J. Horwitz, Supervising Attorney for the Education Law Project at the Legal Aid Society. “Without a commitment and specific plan for the city to audit the system and adopt system-wide solutions, we will be forced to take legal action and ask a court to compel City Hall to do so.”