Oral arguments were set to begin today in a lawsuit against the city over former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to move homeless people out of hotel rooms and back into congregate shelters last summer.
The lawsuit against New York City and several officials in the Department of Homeless Services and the Department of Social Services was brought by the Safety Net Project at the Urban Justice Center — a group that advocates for stronger safety nets — and claims that roughly 39 homeless New Yorkers lost thousands of dollars worth of personal belongings and wages when de Blasio announced in June 2021 that he planned to move homeless people out of hotel rooms and back into dormitory style facilities, ending a pandemic-spurred policy meant to stymie the spread of COVID-19.
Some two dozen people gathered Tuesday morning in Foley Square in Lower Manhattan calling on Mayor Eric Adams’ administration to stop shuffling homeless New Yorkers from shelter to shelter and do more to move them into permanent housing.
“We’re here together to send a message to DHS, to the city, to the government, whoever needs to hear it, y’all need to do better,” said Michael Garrett, a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
Among the allegations in the lawsuit, shelter residents said they lost work because they were forced to transfer from shelter to shelter, while others claim they lost medication and medical equipment during the moves. One man said he lost the only photo he had of his late mother, according to court records and Helen Strom, director of benefits and homeless advocacy at the Urban Justice Center’s Safety Net Project.
In the lawsuit filed in August, Garrett alleged that DHS officials violated the agency's own policy of approving people for single occupancy rooms with medical conditions, as well as his rights, when they moved him from the Indigo Hotel in Brooklyn, where he had his own room, back to a congregate shelter.
Due to his poor health, the city had approved Garrett to stay in a single room with a refrigerator to store his medication, according to the lawsuit. But on Aug. 4, 2021, the city forced Garrett to move out of his single room back to the dormitory-style shelter in Brooklyn.
Spokespeople for Adams and DHS did not respond to a request for comment.
Dianna Ramos is also among the 39 people suing the city. She said she was diagnosed with severe anxiety and PTSD.
According to the lawsuit, Ramos was moved twice between June and September 2021 — first from a hotel on Central Park West, to a dormitory style shelter at a hotel in the Bronx, and then to Susan's Place, a congregate homeless shelter also in the Bronx.
“I don’t care about money. The city, DHS, they need to be held accountable for how they treated us,” Ramos said at the rally. “We are people. We are not animals. You treat animals better sometimes than you treat your own people.”