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The Legal Aid Society Partners With Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr LLP to Protect the Right to Lawful Emergency Shelter for Homeless Women and Men

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

  • Organization: The Legal Aid Society

 In 1981, the landmark litigation, Callahan v. Carey, was settled with a consent decree that requires New York City to provide emergency shelter to each man who is in need of shelter by reason of physical, mental or social dysfunction or who meets the need standard for public assistance. Two years later, the case of Eldredge v Koch extended this right to shelter to homeless women. The consent decree also establishes minimum standards for conditions and services in adult shelters.

In November 2011, the City’s Department of Homeless Services announced a rule that would for the first time since the consent decree permit the denial of shelter from the elements for homeless men and woman. The Legal Aid Society and its pro bono co-counsel Wilmer Cutler, Pickering Hale & Dorr, counsel for the Callahan and Eldredge plaintiffs and The Coalition for the Homeless, immediately sought judicial relief because the new rule violated the consent degree. The City Council also filed a lawsuit and joined the Plaintiffs in arguing that the Department had further failed to comply with the City Administrative Procedure Act, which requires a process of public notice and comment because such rules can be implemented. On February 21, 2012, New York County Supreme Court Justice Judith Gische agreed that the City had violated the City Administrative Procedure Act and declared the new policy a "nullity." Because of this ruling, there was no need to reach the question of whether the new rule violated the consent decree.

Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of the Legal Aid Society, said, “it should not have required litigation to stop this plan that would have resulted in women and men in need of shelter being turned away” and called the Department's approach "a textbook case in arbitrary government." He said the City's own projections showed that at least 10 percent of the women and men seeking shelter each year – some 2,000 people – would be denied assistance under the plan, and this would represent a "sea change" in the City's policy toward homeless New Yorkers.

The Wilmer litigation team consists of Keith Bradley, Michael G. Bongiorno, Sanjay Mody Sarah K. Mohr, Johanne Bruneau, and Patrick Mair. Steven Banks, the Society’s Attorney-in-Chief, and Judith Goldiner, Kenneth Stephens, Joshua Goldfein, and Jane Bock from the Society worked with the Wilmer team.

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