HOMELESSNESS IN UNITED STATES

The research in relation to the American jurisdictional scope has been performed by Mark K. Hsu and Walsy Sáez (lawyers at Hawkins Parnell & Young).

 

1. IS THERE A LEGAL DEFINITION OF “HOMELESS PEOPLE” IN YOUR JURISDICTION IF YES, WHERE IS IT REGULATED?  HOW IS IT EVIDENCED? 

UNITED STATES


The U.S. federal government established the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the early 1930s in response to the devastating effects of the Great Depression.  In the 1950s and 1960s, legislation was passed to leverage private investment to create new affordable rental housing.  By the 1980s, however, changes in the American economy, deinstitutionalization of persons with mental illness and a decline in support for low-income housing led to a dramatic increase in homelessness.  


As a result, in 1987, the federal government passed and enacted the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (the “Act”), which provided federal assistance for homeless shelter programs.  The Act was the United States’s first federal legislative response to homelessness and initially created 15 different programs and services for homeless people. 


The Act is a conditional funding act, meaning that the federal government gives grants to states and in return, the states receiving grants, such as New York, are bound by the terms of the act.  

NEW YORK STATE AND NEW YORK CITY

There is a legal definition of “homeless person” under Article 2-A, Title 1 of the New York Social Services Law which regulates State’s homeless housing and assistance program.  The statutory definition is included below.


Under, Section 42(2), a “homeless person” is “an undomiciled person who is unable to secure permanent and stable housing without special assistance, as determined by the commissioner” of Social Services.


There have been various proposed bills to define homelessness within the context of the New York penal law.  but they have not been passed.  In 2017, there was a proposed bill to establish the Homelessness Protection Act, which would have amended Section 485.05 of the New York Penal Law to include a definition of “homelessness” within the statute and establish homelessness as a protected class against hate crimes.  However, the bill was not passed. 

2. DOES A LEGAL STATUS OF “HOMELESS PEOPLE” OR “HOMELESSNESS” INVOLVE A PARTICULAR OBJECT OF LEGAL PROTECTION? WHAT IS THE BASIC PROTECTION THAT IS RECEIVED IN YOUR JURISDICTION?

UNITED STATES

 

There is no such legal protection attached to homeless individuals on a federal level.  

 

Several states (Rhode Island, Connecticut and Illinois) have passed a “Homeless Bill of Rights” protecting the civil and human rights of homeless people, affirming that they have equal rights to medical care, free speech, free movement, voting, opportunities for employment and privacy.  

NEW YORK STATE AND NEW YORK CITY

 

There appears to be no legal status of “homeless people” or “homelessness” under New York State law.

 

Our research indicates that the legal status of “homeless persons” exists only within the context of the New York City Social Services Law provision which regulates the Homeless Housing and Assistance Program (“HAP”).  The HAP establishes the homeless housing and assistance fund, to fund capital programs sponsored by non-profit corporations, charitable organizations, public corporations and municipalities to improve the supply of shelter and other housing arrangements for homeless people. 

 

New York City is unique in comparison to the State of New York, as it has a specific mandate granting the right to shelter. Under the Callahan Consent Decree, homeless individuals in New York City have a legal right to shelter.  The City offers temporary emergency shelter to eligible individuals.  The Department of Homeless Services (DHS) oversees shelter placement and the providers who operate most of the shelters in New York City.  DHS is also responsible for authorizing and overseeing the transfer of homeless people from shelter to shelter.

 

There are different types of shelters available.  There is no eligibility process but there is an assessment period, and different types of shelters have requirements for their residents.  The Single Adult shelters in the city have a policy of “Client Responsibility,” which requires individuals in shelters to actively participate in efforts to achieve independent living. All shelter clients who are able to work are required to obtain and maintain employment while they stay in the shelters.  Additionally, residents must actively seek permanent housing.  Complaints with DHS can be filed by calling 311.

3. ARE THERE SPECIFIC MEASURES THAT PROMOTE ACCESS TO AFFORDABLE HOUSING FOR HOMELESS PEOPLE? HOW IS IT REGULATED AND HOW SHOULD IT BE SHOWED?

UNITED STATES

 

The McKinney-Vento Act include programs that fund emergency and permanent housing for homeless people; makes vacant government properties available at no cost to non-profits for use as facilities to assist people experiencing homelessness; and protects the education rights of homeless children and youth. Organizations such as the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty work to make sure that the Act’s protections are enforced, including through litigation. 

 

The Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) provides assistance grants to communities that administer housing and services at the local level.  The Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) program funds street outreach, homelessness prevention and diversion, emergency shelter and rapid re-housing.  The Continuum of Care (CoC) program funds permanent supportive housing, rapid-housing, transitional housing, coordinated entry and pilot programs like the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program.  

 

In 2009, there was a reauthorization of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance programs, resulting in the HEARTH Act.  It allocated millions more to homelessness prevention, rapidly re-housing homeless families, and providing permanent supportive housing for homeless people with disabilities.  It also modernizes and streamlines housing and services to more efficiently mee the needs of people seeking assistance.  

NEW YORK STATE AND NEW YORK CITY

 

Yes.  There are measures at the State and City level.

 

The state-wide measures are not directly managed by the State.  The State does not operate housing, or provide funding or services directly to individuals.  Instead, the State administers grant programs primarily to non-profit organizations which operate housing programs.  The Housing and Support Services (“HSS”) of the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance administers programs to address the homelessness issue in the State, including the Homeless Housing and Assistance Program, the Solutions to End Homelessness Program, and the New York State Supportive Housing Program.[1]

 

The New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) established a free service, NYHousingSearch.gov, to allow people to locate affordable housing.  This website is a free service to list and find affordable, accessible homes and apartments across the state.  It does not appear to be regulated.

 

In 2015/16, the City and State made separate commitments to support affordable housing.  The City’s program, NYC 15/15 aimed to create 15,000 supportive units over 15 years.  The State’s plan is to create 20,000 supportive units state-wide over 15 years.

 

Under the NYC Social Services law, the mayor of New York is required to submit to the State legislature and the governor a five-year plan for housing for the homeless in New York City in February each year.

 

New York City offers measures to promote affordable housing for homeless people.  These range from shelters to housing vouchers, like CityFHEPS, and Section 8 housing, which is for people below a certain income level. 

 

Under the New York City Social Services law, under which the New York City Department of Homeless Services is established, the department commissioner is required to establish a permanent housing resource clearinghouse to coordinate and track permanent housing resources eligible to homeless persons. 

 

The City also has rent-regulation laws that are meant to help individuals secure affordable housing.  The regulations provide subsidies for housing, cap the rent that regulated apartments can charge, and make it more difficult to evict tenants who do not pay rent. However, it is not clear how much these regulations promote access for homeless people specifically (as opposed to just helping low-income individuals).

 

The City also has a housing subsidy program, but it is only for families that meet guidelines, including length of stay. Families can remain in shelter a long time. The average length of stay in shelter is over 400 days. Families who do not qualify for a subsidy have to pay their own rent.

4. IS HATE CRIME SPECIFICALLY REGULATED AGAINST HOMELESS PEOPLE IN YOUR JURISDICTION? DO YOU KNOW ANY CASE?

UNITED STATES

 

Unfortunately, there is no specific regulation of a hate crime against homeless people on a federal level.

 

Generally, a hate crime is defined as an offense in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim, or in the case of a property crime, the property that is the object of the offense, because of their race, color or national origin (Title 18 U.S.C Section 245). Federal bias crime laws enacted subsequently have provided additional coverage. 

NEW YORK STATE AND NEW YORK CITY

 

No.  In 2017, there was a proposed bill to establish the Homelessness Protection Act, which would have amended Section 485.05 of the New York Penal Law to include “homelessness” as a protected class against hate crimes, and include a definition of homelessness.  However, the bill was not passed.

5. HAVE SPECIFIC MEASURES TO PROTECT THE HEALTH OR FOOD RIGHTS OF HOMELESS PEOPLE HAVE BEEN APPROVED DURING THIS COVID-19 CRISIS? 

UNITED STATES

 

None that we are aware of.  

NEW YORK STATE AND NEW YORK CITY

 

We are not aware of any specific measures to protect the homeless.  Although many non-profit organisations have launched initiatives to protect the health and food rights of homeless people, it appears that neither the State of New York nor the City have enacted specific measures specifically designed to assist homeless people.

 

The City of New York has established a COVID-19 Emergency Food Distribution program for all New Yorkers. Homeless individuals are able to obtain meals through this program.  However, the program is not specifically designed for the homeless and it is not clear whether homeless individuals are getting access to information about this program.

 

The City also published guidelines for homeless shelters to handle the COVID-19 crisis. Also, the City recently made COVID-19 diagnostic testing available at no cost for all New York residents

 

The Coalition for the Homeless, which is a non-for-profit organisation, has continued to run food programs for the homeless despite the COVID-19 crisis.

 

In order to protect people who are at-risk of becoming homeless, the State of New York has 

paused eviction proceedings through at least June 20, 2020, because of the public health emergency posed by COVID-19.  Other than that, it appears no additional measures have been established to protect people at risk of becoming homeless.

 

Additionally, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of Civil Justice of the City’s Human Resources Administration partnered with tenant legal services providers across New York City to offer the Universal Access to Counsel by Phone program. This program is meant to assist NYC residential renters in need of assistance with legal issues related to their housing. The program is intended to ensure that anyone facing eviction in court will have access to legal assistance.  Although not specifically designated as such, the program should assist individuals vulnerable to becoming homeless due to the pandemic crisis.

6. HAVE DATA ON TRANSPARENCY AND POSSIBLE CLAIMS FOR HOMELESS PEOPLE IN PARTICULARLY VULNERABLE SITUATIONS BEEN PROVIDED?

UNITED STATES

 

Unfortunately, not that we are aware of.  

NEW YORK STATE AND NEW YORK CITY

 

Yes, data is available at the State and City level.  

 

The NYC DHS tracks data regarding homeless individuals. A section of their website is devoted to providing data on individuals and families by case type; the ethnicity of shelter clients; number of shelter entrants by borough; and the enrollment of individuals in homeless prevention programs.  The website publishes yearly reports.  It also posts reports on medical health and mental health services in shelters. 

 

With regards to data regarding possible claims for homeless people, the Office of the Ombudsman is available to assist DHS constituents and the public to resolve any disputes and work to ensure fair and equal access to benefits available to homeless people and people in vulnerable situations. The Office of the Ombudsman is responsible for providing information and education on homeless services, address grievances or dissatisfied outcomes for homeless individuals, provide mediation services, and complete strategic data tracking and formulate recommendations to DHS management.  Although in-person services have been suspended due to the COVID-19 crisis, the Office continues working and is conducting appointments telephonically.

 

Individuals with possible claims may also submit a Constituent Grievance Form to write to their shelter director or case worker to present grievances concerning DHS-funded services.

 

Additionally, various organisations publish data regarding homeless people in the State and City of New York.

 

The State of New York directs state residents who are currently homeless or at-risk of homelessness to contact the Department of Social Services (“DSS”) within their respective counties.  Different counties have their own DSS.  This is how people in vulnerable situations can access data and learn about their rights.

 

Lastly, individuals can sue the State of New York and/or City of New York and its departments responsible for administering service to homeless people based on claims based on the legal right to shelter.  The Legal Aid Society and other non-for-profit organizations defend homeless New Yorkers against ongoing threats to the legal right to shelter.

7. HAS ANY LEGAL ACTION BEEN TAKEN TO PROTECT PARTICULARLY VULNERABLE PEOPLE FROM BECOMING HOMELESS?

NEW YORK STATE AND NEW YORK CITY


We did not find information regarding legal action taken for people who are vulnerable to becoming homeless.  The legal matters we found through our research were for the rights of people who were already homeless.

8. COMMENTS

NEW YORK STATE AND NEW YORK CITY


A list of useful resources for the State of New York is provided below:


Useful “Know Your Rights Information”:

https://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/get-help/know-your-rights/


An evaluation of New York State’s and New York City’s policies towards the homeless can be found here: https://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/state-of-the-homeless/


A full evaluation report can be accessed here: https://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/StateofTheHomeless2020.pdf


For information about monitoring of the municipal shelter system in New York City, please see the link below: https://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/our-programs/advocacy/organizing-and-shelter-monitoring/


For an overview of relevant litigation regarding the right to shelter in New York City, please see the link below:

https://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/our-programs/advocacy/legal-victories/the-callahan-legacy-callahan-v-carey-and-the-legal-right-to-shelter/

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