New York City's Approach to Shelter Rights Amid Migrant Surge

In a notable development for homeless rights and migrant support in New York City, a recent settlement between the city and the Legal Aid Society marks a significant moment in the ongoing debate over the "right-to-shelter" mandate. This mandate, which has been a foundational element of the city's approach to homelessness since a 1981 consent judgment, has come under scrutiny due to the unprecedented surge of migrants in recent years.

The legal challenge initiated by New York City aimed to modify the right-to-shelter mandate, a move sparked by the major influx of migrants since the spring of 2022. The city's efforts to revise the mandate were met with opposition from the Legal Aid Society, leading both parties to enter settlement negotiations. The result is a stipulation that introduces a "crisis plan" specifically tailored for "single adult new arrivals" who are cooperative in the city's assessment and resettlement efforts.

Under the new stipulation, eligible individuals aged 23 and above are guaranteed shelter for a minimum of 30 days, while those under 23 are assured shelter for at least 60 days. The possibility of extending shelter stays will be evaluated on an individual basis, reflecting a more flexible approach to the diverse needs of the city's homeless population.

Moreover, the stipulation outlines conditions under which newly arrived single adults may be deemed capable of securing housing on their own and thus may be denied shelter. However, it also emphasizes the city's commitment to providing resettlement services to eligible new arrivals within its shelter system. Notably, the agreement includes provisions that prevent the denial of shelter based on disabilities and allow for the accommodation of eligible new arrivals in New York hotels outside the city limits, ensuring access to meals and transportation.

Mayor Eric Adams highlighted the necessity of adapting the mandate to better suit the current circumstances, citing the arrival of 183,000 new migrants since spring 2022. He acknowledged the national humanitarian crisis and emphasized the stipulation's role in granting the city greater flexibility to manage the situation effectively while continuing to support the most vulnerable.

The Legal Aid Society's chief civil practice attorney, Adriene Holder, reiterated the importance of maintaining the right to shelter as enshrined in the consent decree. Holder emphasized the settlement's provisions for eliminating the use of waiting rooms as makeshift shelters, where new arrivals have been forced to sleep on chairs and floors. The organization has committed to closely monitoring the city's adherence to the settlement and is prepared to seek judicial intervention if necessary.

This settlement comes at a time when New York City's financial commitment to aiding migrants is substantial, with $1.45 billion spent in the fiscal year 2023 and projections suggesting up to $12 billion could be spent through the fiscal year 2025 in the absence of policy changes. This financial burden underscores the urgency of finding sustainable solutions to the challenges posed by the influx of asylum-seekers and other migrants.

The case, Callahan v. Carey, represents a critical juncture in New York City's handling of homelessness and migrant support, reflecting the complex interplay between legal mandates, humanitarian needs, and fiscal realities. As the city navigates these challenges, the recent settlement provides a framework for balancing the rights of single adult migrants with the practicalities of providing shelter and support in a time of crisis.


Monterose, Isaac. "NYC Settles Its Challenge Of 'Right-To-Shelter' Mandate." Law360, March 15, 2024.

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