The Department of Homeless Services temporarily suspended its push to move 8,000 homeless New Yorkers from hotels and into shelters Friday — just hours after advocates filed a motion accusing City Hall of violating the rights of people with medical and mental health problems.
DHS quietly stayed three upcoming moves after the Legal Aid Society charged in a federal court filing that the agency was failing to perform required health screenings before the relocation, potentially endangering homeless people with special needs.
So far, residents from 23 of the 60 emergency hotel shelters opened to provide space for social distancing during the pandemic have already been moved back into the city’s congregate shelter system.
A spokesman for DHS confirmed that the suspension of the three other planned moves would last through at least Tuesday, when the first hearing is set in the court case.
“Pending the court hearing on Tuesday, we are holding in abeyance the scheduled transition out of 3 more COVID-period commercial hotel locations that were set to relocate” Friday and this coming Monday, said spokesman Isaac McGinn in a statement.
“The health, safety, and wellbeing of the New Yorkers we serve as they get back on their feet is our number one priority – that’s why we’re continuing our comprehensive COVID-19 testing and vaccination programs, making it as easy as possible for our clients to get tested and vaccinated by delivering these free, vital resources directly to clients where they are,” he added.
But Legal Aid’s lawsuit disputes that statement, claiming that City Hall failed to follow required protocol for transferring the homeless hotel residents with major health needs back to more traditional barracks-style shelters.
“The Mayor is forcing DHS to move shelter residents faster than staff can screen them,” Joshua Goldfein, attorney at Legal Aid, told The Post. “As a result every day we are meeting very vulnerable people with serious needs who have been placed in shelters that put them at risk.”
In court papers first reported by The New York Times, the Legal Aid attorneys argued that failure puts homeless New Yorkers with mental and physical challenges at high risk of contracting COVID-19.
“Many of the class members have disabilities that put them at higher risk of severe consequences if they were to contract SARSCoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, and many have physical and mental disabilities that present risk of harm if they were to return to congregate shelter, or otherwise make living in congregate shelter untenable,” the group’s lawyers argued in their court filing.
City Hall launched the emergency shelter program after a slew of outbreaks in shelters during the early days of the pandemic highlighted the ease with which the deadly virus could spread in crowded shelters.
The move to hotels, officials argued, helped to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 cases among the vulnerable population at the height of the pandemic.
However, following the rollout of the coronavirus vaccines, Mayor Bill de Blasio has said the shelters are once again sufficiently safe and that returning homeless New Yorkers there would make it easier to provide them with healthcare and social services.
“It is time to move homeless folks who were in hotels for a temporary period of time back to shelters, where they can get the support they need,” de Blasio said last month.