NYC judge blocks transfer of homeless out of hotels and back to shelters

Jeff Lewis/AP Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation

At the beginning of the pandemic lockdowns, one emergency order from the Mayor of New York City was issued to protect the homeless, both on the streets and in shelters, from creating mass infection events. To do this, they rented space in nearly 30 hotels to provide rooms for the homeless where they could have a roof over their heads, clean water and access to medical care. Since the hotels were basically shut down and going bankrupt because of the lockdowns and travel bans, it was probably a fairly good deal for them as well since the city was paying them for the empty rooms. But now that the city is theoretically open for business once again and vaccination rates are rising, it was time to move the homeless back to shelters and start the process of cleaning up the hotels and letting them get back to business.

That didn’t last long at all. Activists went to court and complained that it still wasn’t safe to move the homeless back to the shelters so they couldn’t be evicted. A judge agreed with them this week and ordered a halt to the transfers, throwing the hotels back into legal limbo. (NY Post)

A federal judge on Tuesday halted New York City’s push to move 8,000 homeless New Yorkers from hotels and into shelters.

The ruling comes after the Legal Aid Society filed a motion accusing the Department of Homeless Services of violating the rights of people with medical and mental health problems.

DHS is now temporarily blocked from moving anyone with a health condition that might qualify for a waiver to avoid the shelter system, petitioners said.

While I certainly sympathize with anyone who finds themself homeless, particularly if the situation is complicated by mental health issues, the rationale for these decisions and the way the transition is being handled are absurd. I do understand that if the city failed to provide proper examinations for mental health issues and other disorders, that needs to be addressed. Since they apparently didn’t properly take care of this for any of the homeless in the hotels, they will need to address that situation before transfers can resume.

But if any of the homeless in the hotels do have mental disorders (and I’m sure many of them do), what are the odds that they only just came down with these challenges while staying in the hotel? It seems to me that they probably had those issues before being taken from the shelters or brought in off the streets. If the shelters were good enough for them before the pandemic, how are they not good enough now?

The plaintiffs are also arguing that the congregate shelters are not segregated into individual rooms like the hotels, increasing the risk of COVID infections. There are a couple of problems with this argument. First of all, do you mean to tell us that you can have thousands of people in Yankee Stadium without masks and not worry about COVID but the few hundred people in the average homeless shelter are more at risk of creating a superspreader event? Also, the city has been responsible for those people living in the hotels for more than a year in most cases. How is it that you haven’t vaccinated nearly all of them by now?

This is yet another example of New York City’s shifting standards regarding the reopening of Gotham. Either the majority of the danger has passed or it hasn’t. If it’s not safe for people to congregate (in the City Council’s opinion) then just lock everyone down. If it’s safe, then return to the previous status quo. Making exceptions and tailoring the rules to please politically favored interests and groups isn’t going to do anything to promote confidence in your leadership.