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January 17, 2003
MAYOR MICHAEL R. BLOOMBERG AND LEGAL AID SOCIETY PRESIDENT DANIEL GREENBERG ANNOUNCE HISTORIC AGREEMENT ON
20-YEAR HOMELESS FAMILY LITIGATION
Agreements on Special Master and Standards of Client Responsibility
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Legal Aid Society President Daniel L. Greenberg today announced an historic settlement in the 20-year old litigation involving homeless families and the Department of Homeless Services (DHS). The announcement includes 1) the formation of a new three-member panel with a new charge that includes oversight and making reports and recommendations to the court, including those relating to the resolution of the existing litigation involving homeless families; 2) an agreement to implement first-ever standards for client responsibility; 3) the withdrawal of all pending motions before the court; 4) a commitment to embrace new mechanisms to avoid expensive and time-consuming litigation in order to achieve the best results for homeless families.
The Mayor and Mr. Greenberg were joined at the announcement by the members of the new panel: Professor of Law and former Fordham School of Law Dean John D. Feerick, Fund for the City of New York Senior Fellow Daniel Kronenfeld, and Citizens’ Committee for Children Executive Director Gail B. Nayowith. The three brokered the settlement after extensive negotiations that ended late last night. Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo and Homeless Services Commissioner Linda Gibbs represented the City in those negotiations, while Legal Aid was represented by Associate Attorney in Chief and Lead Counsel Steven Banks.
“Today’s agreement is the dawn of a new era for those working to serve New York City’s homeless families,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “The introduction of standards of client responsibility, a new commitment to avoid litigation, and a strong and thoughtful Panel to advise DHS will dramatically improve the delivery of services to those in need. We are thankful to Justice Helen Freedman for her leadership, as well as to our colleagues from the Legal Aid Society for their tireless advocacy for those in need. I also want to thank Commissioner Gibbs, who now has all the permission she needs to fully implement the City’s ambitious plan to provide for our homeless compassionately and responsibly.”
“On behalf of The Legal Aid Society as a whole, we are delighted that this settlement gives to the agency involved the responsibility and opportunity to continue to work on the difficult problems of homelessness while recognizing that The Legal Aid Society has an expertise that can be useful to fashion the best remedies,” said Legal Aid Society President Daniel Greenberg. “We are pleased to be a resource in our collaborations with government.”
The Parties have agreed to put in place for two years the new Special Master Panel, which will have the responsibility of evaluating the functioning of the family shelter system and making recommendations for improvement. Areas include the process of application; the operation of the Emergency Assistance Unit; the placement of families into shelter facilities, and other areas.
“We thank the parties for the opportunity to be part of what we believe is a historic opportunity to begin a new era. We bring our collective knowledge and support to this process and are sincerely grateful for the opportunity to make a contribution in the service to those in need,” said Panel member John Feerick.
To enable the City to implement its new Strategic Plan and to facilitate the functioning of the Panel, the Parties have agreed to withdraw all pending motions before the Court involving family homelessness -existing court orders remain in effect- and to avert the need for applications to the Court. Instead, the parties have agreed to work through the Panel to address concerns in the spirit of avoiding litigation. At the end of the two-year period, the Panel will make recommendations it believes appropriate as a result of its work, including recommendations with respect to the resolution of existing litigation.
“Everyone came to the table with a firm commitment to improving services for homeless families, and we are confident that this agreement will allow for just that,” said Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo. “We're also pleased that the agreement will lead to reduced litigation, a major priority of the Mayor's, and result in enhanced cooperation between the City and the homeless advocates.”
“This is a victory for all New Yorkers. We are grateful to the Mayor and to Commissioner Gibbs for this new beginning,” said Legal Aid’s Steve Banks.
The Parties have also agreed to implement first-ever standards of client responsibility in the family shelter system, which, pursuant to state regulation will require families to follow an independent living plan, seek and accept suitable housing, and avoid “gross misconduct.” A failure to adhere to these standards will result in a discharge to permanent housing. A family which refuses to sign a lease will not be eligible for shelter because a suitable apartment was available.
“We look to this as a new beginning, one where we can move forward together to end family homelessness as we know it,” said DHS Commissioner Linda Gibbs.
Ed Skyler/ Jordan Barowitz
Pat Bath (Legal Aid Society)