Eric Adams weakens shelter mandate as New York City anticipates more migrant arrivals after Title 42 expires

The mayor loosens a decades-old mandate after New York ‘reached our limit’ with thousands of new arrivals

Alex Woodward
New York
Thursday 11 May 2023 17:44 BST
US-Mexico border: Title 42 to be lifted

New York City Mayor Eric Adams is weakening a decades-old right-to-shelter mandate to prepare for thousands of newly arrived people in the US after the expiration of a Trump-era policy that blocked hundreds of thousands of migrants from entering the country.

The mayor’s executive order suspends a rule that guarantees shelter for families with children if requested by 10pm, and it suspends a rule that prohibits families from living in group settings. The city and state anticipate hundreds of daily arrivals with the end of Title 42, which expires at midnight on 11 May.

“No one thought about a humanitarian crisis when they took this court case to a right to shelter,” the mayor said in remarks on Thursday, referencing the 1981 consent decree that guides the statewide mandate. “We could potentially get thousands of people a day in our city. It’s wrong for those who are coming here … and it’s wrong for New Yorkers who are here.”

Last year, city agencies sheltered more than 61,000 asylum seekers, with roughly 37,500 people in city shelters and emergency housing, and “upwards of 500 people” have arrived daily in recent days, according to Fabien Levy, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office. More than 130 emergency sites and eight “humanitarian relief centres” have opened within the last year, including inside hotels and a short-lived encampment in The Bronx.

Now, the city has “reached our limit,” Mr Levy said in a statement.

“In an effort to mitigate those risks and find room within our shelter system, the city has temporarily suspended the policy surrounding timing for placements in shelters,” he added. “This is not a decision taken lightly and we will make every effort to get asylum seekers into shelter as quickly as possible as we have done since day one.”

The order and the dissolve of the Title 42 public health order mark a turning point for a city famously grounded by its repeatedly affirmed and constantly defended rights and services for immigrants, as officials argue that available space is running out while advocates demand permanent housing solutions.

Over the last year, Mayor Adams has pleaded with federal agencies for additional support as Republican governors in border states bussed thousands of people seeking asylum to Democratic-led northern cities and states.

New York is preparing for “several thousand additional people seeking shelter each week,” which could “exacerbate an already large-scale humanitarian crisis and create a disaster emergency to which local governments are unable to adequately respond,” according to an emergency order from Governor Kathy Hochul.

“I am working very closely with the mayor to identify more sites where we can welcome these individuals,” she said on 10 May. “They’re human beings, they deserve to be treated with dignity, but also we’re going to have a capacity issue, so we’re going to be needing to look at other places as well.”

The Title 42 public health order invoked by then-President Donald Trump ostensibly aimed at preventing people from entering the US during the Covid-19 pandemic, but the administration largely wielded the order as a means to block people from entering the country as part of the administration’s broader anti-immigration agenda, even as the former president and Republican officials sought to loosen pandemic-era restrictions.

Millions of people have been turned away from the US under Title 42 since 2020.

The Coalition for the Homeless and the Legal Aid Society are currently evaluating the mayor’s executive order “and considering all of our options, including litigation,” the groups said in a statement.

The groups warned that the mayor’s order will “force families with children to languish at the city’s intake facility for extended periods of time, potentially days on end, prolonging suffering that no human being should experience.”

Congregate settings could put families at risk of disease, sexual assault and adverse mental health impacts, they warned.

“The mayor attempting to weaken those rights now – in a moment of immense need for so many asylum seekers – is a misguided and harmful action in the face of the real, urgent challenge exacerbated by a lack of decisive and timely state and federal action,” New York City’s elected public advocate Jumaane Williams said in a statement.

More than 75,000 people are living in New York City shelters on a given night, not including countless others who live on the streets, according to Coalition for the Homeless.

The organisation’s 2022 report examining the state of homelessness in the city underscored officials “continued failure to address the underlying causes” of the crisis, including a lack of investment in affordable housing that has left thousands of households with annual incomes below $30,000 at risk of homelessness while paying more than half of their incomes on rent.

New York’s statewide right to shelter is a relatively straight-forward mandate through consent decree from a landmark case in 1981.

Following a class action lawsuit filed in 1979 on behalf of homeless New Yorker Robert Callahan, the state Supreme Court in Callahan v Carey ordered the city and state to provide shelter for homeless men as a right supported by the state constitution.

Following two years of negotiations in the wake of the ruling, the case was settled as a consent decree with the city and state, mandating shelter for those who need it, and outlining minimum standards for care in the shelter systems. Coalition for the Homeless also was appointed to monitor the conditions and progress of the mandate.

Callahan died while sleeping on the streets before the consent decree was signed, one of the last homeless New Yorkers who died in an era without a legal right to shelter.

In the decades that followed, legal challenges against the city alleged numerous violations of the mandate, prompting a series of court rulings to expand shelter protections for women and families and force the state to open more beds.

New York City Council Member Shahana Hanif, who chairs the council’s Committee on Immigration, warned last year that the mayor’s plan for temporary outdoor shelters was an attempt to subvert the right-to-shelter mandate. She said the administration has since failed to come up with long-term plans for people seeking asylum.

“Right-to-shelter exists to protect families and ensure all New Yorkers have their rights respected in our shelter system,” she said on 10 May. “These rules cannot be ignored. … The mayor cannot simply rule by decree.”

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