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City's Controversial Homeless Policy Shot Down, Marking Win for Quinn

By Jill Colvin | February 21, 2012 5:51pm
A homeless man walks down the street last summer in New York City.
A homeless man walks down the street last summer in New York City.
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Spencer Platt/Getty Images

CITY HALL — A judge has blocked the city from implementing a new homeless shelter policy that would have forced men and women seeking shelter to prove they have nowhere else to go — marking a major win for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

In an 18-page decision issued Tuesday, Judge Judith Gische ruled the Bloomberg administration violated city rules when it attempted to implement the new policy without the approval of the City Council or any public input.

Quinn, who sued the administration to halt the controversial plan, reaffirmed her position Tuesday that the policy was "wrong-headed."

The plan, announced by the Department of Homeless Services last fall, would have forced individuals seeking space in shelters to undergo rigorous interviews, during which staffers would review their housing histories to make sure the shelter system was really their last resort.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
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Jemal Countess/Getty Images

The city maintains it has every right to make sure services are being used by those who need them most. But Quinn blasted the plan as "cruel" and "mean-spirited," vowing to stop it in its tracks by filing her first suit against the administration since she became speaker.

The move marked a departure for Quinn, who is generally thought to be a close ally of the mayor but appears to be distancing herself from Bloomberg as she prepares for her own presumptive mayoral run in 2013.

"She got lucky that in this particular circumstance, she got separated from the mayor," said top Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf, noting it wasn't enough to fully prove her independence from Bloomberg.

"It’s not believable yet."

In a joint statement, Quinn and Annabel Palma, chairwoman of the council's General Welfare Committee, applauded the ruling as "a tremendous victory."

"The Council has long argued that DHS' proposed policy would have needlessly put thousands of homeless New Yorkers on the streets by requiring them to provide proof they have nowhere else to stay," the statement said.

"This was a wrong-headed policy that put a burden of proof on people who could least shoulder it."

Homeless advocates also commended the ruling.

"It should not have taken a judge to stop the city from implementing this dangerous policy," said Patrick Markee, senior policy analyst for the Coalition for the Homeless.

But DHS Commissioner Seth Diamond stressed that the decision focused on the way the city went about implementing the policy — not the merits of the policy itself.

"Judge Gische’s disappointing decision does not undermine the city’s strong reasons for developing this common-sense procedure, nor does it make any determinations about its legality other than ruling on the method used to issue it," he said in a statement, adding that the city plans to appeal the decision.

Bloomberg also defended the policy Tuesday as a check to make sure people aren’t abusing the system

"The law requires that we provide shelter. But you cannot say, 'I’m tired of paying my rent. Therefore the taxpayers of New York City should just pay my rent.' OK? That’s not reasonable,” he said, vowing to continue to press for the new policy, which officials estimate would save the city $4 million a year.

"We’re going to do everything we can to have the ability to do it."