At least in theory, New York City is known for welcoming new immigrants.
But the city’s open arms are being weighed down by a continued influx of newcomers.
Earlier this week, Mayor Eric Adams renewed an executive order that relaxed parts of the city’s “right-to-shelter” law that provides a bed and food for anyone in need amid a lack of space.
What You Need To Know
- Amid the influx of migrants, Mayor Eric Adams has made tweaks to the city's decades-old “right-to-shelter” law
- The “right-to-shelter” was established after a landmark decision in 1979 in which the state's Supreme Court ruled that the city needed to provide shelter to homeless men
- The 1979 decision paved the way for women and families with children to later get the same protections
- The law has come under scrutiny as the city's continues to deal with an influx of migrants. As of Wednesday, more than 67,000 asylum seekers have arrived with over 47,000 still in the city's care
The order has been met with skepticism from advocates and legal experts who worry about living conditions for migrants.
“Will there be a deterioration in conditions? Will children be subjected to conditions that are dangerous? Will the adult men be put into situations that are just untenable far beyond what the administration tried to do with putting people in temporary tents in flood zones,” said Beth Haroules, a staff attorney at New York Civil Liberties Union.
The city’s “right-to-shelter” law results from a landmark court case known as Callahan v. Carey that in 1979 established a legal obligation that the city provides shelter and food to homeless men.
That case then led the groundwork for similar rulings for women and families with children.
The rulings came with a set of specific rules about how the city must provide help in a timely manner, that beds be three feet apart, that there be a specific ratio of people to bathrooms and showers and other requirements.
“All of those specificities were important to make sure that it was safe and that the conditions were adequate for the people who were needy,” said Norman Siegel, a longtime civil rights attorney.
Siegel argues that the law applies to the entire state and that Rockland and Orange counties which recently won temporary restraining orders against the city will have to take migrants as well.
“The Callahan decision was applicable to the state of New York and its subdivisions, not just New York City,” added Siegel.
“Meanwhile, in the city, the law is being put to the test. Administration officials have attempted to use school gyms, a former police academy and tents to house migrants and now are even considering a complex on Rikers Island,” said Haroules. “There’s always sort of a cry and hue that we don’t have space, we don’t have resources. The city has always been elastic, the state has been elastic.”
The city continues to argue that it has exhausted all traditional shelter sites but homeless advocates say there are other solutions available to the administration.
“Abolishing the 90-day rule so that people can move out of shelter faster, bring down everyone’s cost and get themselves into permanent housing in the community,” said Josh Goldfein, staff attorney at The Legal Aid.
On Wednesday, city officials say that more than 67,000 migrants have arrived with more than 47,000 still in the city’s care.
Editor's Note: This story was updated to reflect that the distance between beds at shelters was mandated by the 1979 ruling to be three feet apart.