Homeless New Yorkers residing in hotels will be allowed to remain for now, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
The ruling, handed down by Judge Gregory Howard Woods, mandates that the city must meet certain requirements before it can transfer residents back to the shelter system.
Woods ruled the city cannot move shelter clients with disabilities out of hotels unless written notice is provided no later than seven days prior to a move and individual meetings with case workers are held no later than five days prior to a move. He also ordered case workers to recite from a script in their meetings when explaining to residents the process for applying for a waiver to stay in a hotel.
“There is no script so therefore this can’t happen at all,” said Josh Goldfein, staff attorney and co-counsel on the motion for the Legal Aid Society.
He went on to explain: “If I were [the city], I would want to come to us and say ‘Do you agree with this script?’ Because otherwise we’re going to go back and say this script is no good and then they have to start all over again.”
While the court’s requirements are largely similar to the city’s original stated transfer plan, they do include additional details, including the seven-day notice for all transfers.
But according to the city's Department for Homeless Services, the mandates from the court are “minor” and that the city will be able to meet them and resume hotel transfers by next week.
“We thank the Court for taking a thoughtful look at the question of how and on what timeline we return to shelter, not whether we do – and we are pleased that the judge did not stop our overall return to shelter plan from proceeding,” Isaac McGinn, a spokesman for the Department for Homeless services, said in a statement. “We will make the minor adjustments to our process as directed, we plan to move forward next week, and we remain committed to meeting our clients’ unique needs and granting accommodations as requested, as we have in hundreds of cases already.”
The ruling comes after the Legal Aid Society filed a motion last Thursday requesting a temporary restraining order on all transfers. According to their motion, the city was “recklessly rushing the process” and violating the rights of disabled clients.
Homeless rights advocates consider the ruling a win for the hotel residents.
“The city’s plan was abstract and aspirational,” said Dawn Smalls, lead counsel and partner at Jenner & Block, the firm that served as co-counsel with Legal Aid on the motion. “Today’s order actually puts some teeth behind it.”
The ruling remains in effect for at least 14 days.
At the end of the two-week period, a judge must rule to extend this decision. Otherwise, the Legal Aid Society has until then to draft a new motion if they feel the city isn’t abiding by these requirements.
After Legal Aid’s motion last week, the city voluntarily paused upcoming transfers.
One of the transfers at Hotel at Fifth Avenue in Midtown, which houses women with disabilities, was paused mid-move.
As the tourism industry cratered at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city moved thousands of homeless New Yorkers out of dorm-style shelters and into empty hotels to accommodate social distancing requirements.
Last month, the city began the process of moving nearly 9,000 homeless residents out of 60 hotels and back into the shelter system.
The city’s plan to move homeless New Yorkers back into congregate shelters is part of the city’s effort to reopen the city.
With the availability of the coronavirus vaccine and a reduced positivity rate, the city has been moving towards a full reopening of services, including shutting down the hotel program for homeless New Yorkers.
The court ruling comes after multiple protests over the past few weeks by hotel residents and advocates against the city’s planned transfers.
On Monday, women residing at Hotel at Fifth Avenue in Midtown gathered outside the hotel to speak out against the pending transfer.
Two weeks prior, about two dozen men locked themselves inside the Four Points at Sheraton hotel, refusing to be transferred.
While the ruling is considered limited injunctive relief, advocates still consider it a victory.
“It’s significant changes from yesterday and a win for our clients,” said Smalls.