A massive influx of Latin American migrants in recent months has driven the city’s shelter system so close to collapse that Mayor Adams suggested Wednesday it’s warranted to reassess local homeless policies — including a long-standing law that assures the right to shelter for New York’s neediest.
The mayor floated the extraordinary proposal in a statement that also admitted his administration failed to provide shelter beds for roughly 60 homeless men on Monday night, forcing them to sleep on floors and benches at a Manhattan intake center. He said that was a result of the shelter system being overburdened by the arrival of more than 11,000 South and Central American migrants since May.
“The city’s system is nearing its breaking point. As a result, the city’s prior practices, which never contemplated the bussing of thousands of people into New York City, must be reassessed,” Adams said.
Though Adams’ statement didn’t explicitly mention the so-called “right-to-shelter” law, it’s the primary legal mechanism underpinning the city’s homeless policies.
But in a head-scratching twist, Adams spokesman Fabien Levy disputed the idea that the mayor was solely referring to the right-to-shelter law in calling for a reassessment of “prior practices.”
“We must reassess the entire situation,” Levy said. He would not say what rules besides right-to-shelter could fall within the scope of the mayor’s proposed reassessment.
Under the law, the city must provide a bed in a homeless shelter to anyone in need of one, regardless of immigration status or other circumstances. That has been the case since 1981, when the city entered a consent decree that established the right-to-shelter requirement. It’s unclear whether Adams would have authority to reassess right-to-shelter protocols, as the law is protected under the state constitution.
Advocacy groups, the Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless, said Tuesday that Adams’ administration violated the right-to-shelter law when it didn’t provide beds for the approximately 60 men who were stuck at the intake center at 30th Street and First Avenue.
In Wednesday’s statement, Adams said the impacted individuals were given beds “early the next day” and that they were among a group of “several hundred others” who had showed up at the intake center for single men.
But the mayor would not say whether his administration broke the right-to-shelter law — and instead took an apparent shot at the two advocacy groups who made the accusation.
“While some may want to use these extraordinary circumstances as an opportunity to play an unproductive game of gotcha, we remain focused on supporting each of these individuals,” he said.
In a joint statement late Wednesday, the Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless reaffirmed they believe the administration violated the law as a result of the intake center breakdown — and dismissed the idea that anything can be done to peel back right-to-shelter.
“This principle has been settled for decades, and is not subject to unilateral tinkering by a new administration,” the groups said.
The Monday night situation at the intake center is the second time this summer that Adams’ administration has faced a right-to-shelter headache.
In July, Adams admitted the city violated the law when it failed to find beds in a timely manner for at least five Latin American migrant families.
Since then, hundreds of migrants have arrived in the city every week after crossing into Texas and other Southern states from Mexico in hopes of applying for asylum. Many of the desperate travelers hail from Venezuela and are fleeing violence and economic devastation.
Adams has blamed the shelter system crisis on Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who keeps sending migrants to New York as part of a political beef over immigration policy with President Biden.
But advocates have contended Adams’ team shares some of the blame. Further complicating the crisis is the fact that Social Services Commissioner Gary Jenkins, who oversees the shelter system, remains under a Department of Investigation probe over allegations that he attempted to cover up the first right-to-shelter violations in July.
City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, whose legislative body has held oversight hearings on the shelter dilemma, stopped short Wednesday of accusing the mayor of violating the right-to-shelter law again, but said she considers the Monday night incident “a critical matter.”
“The city is bursting at the seams,” she said, “and quite frankly, is not prepared to handle this influx of individuals coming.”