New York's Famed 'Right-to-Shelter' Law Fraying Around the Edges

AP Photo/John Minchillo

New York is the only city in the nation that requires the government to provide shelter to all its citizens. The law grew out of a lawsuit brought by the Coalition for the Homeless in 1979 on behalf of a homeless man, Robert Callahan. The suit argued that the city had a duty to provide shelter according to the New York State Constitution, which declared that “the aid, care and support of the needy are public concerns and shall be provided by the state and by such of its subdivisions.”


In the early 2000s, the law was expanded to include women and families. Through the years, there’s been little problem because the flow of indigent and homeless people remained steady.

Then Joe Biden took office and the migrant situation exploded. Now, New York City has run out of beds, and the migrants keep coming. Mayor Eric Adams is no longer able to guarantee a bed for single adults who have matched the city’s 30-day or 60-day limit on stays at any one migrant shelter.

The city has set up “waiting areas” for migrants where they can stay a night or two before being shuffled off to another shelter.

New York Times:

Dozen of migrants have also been sleeping on the floor, for up to five days, at another city-designated waiting area, in a church in Astoria, Queens, said Kathryn Kliff, a staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society, which is fighting an attempt by the city to suspend the so-called right to shelter.

In the case of Mr. Funes, who has never been in a city shelter, New York also appears to be failing first-time seekers like him.

“They want you to get tired so you give up, and they are achieving it,” he said.

Mr. Adams was unapologetic about the housing situation for migrants at a news conference on Tuesday.

“I don’t know how to get this any clearer,” he said. “When you are out of room, that means you’re out of room.”

Adams has tried offering one-way tickets to any destination in the U.S. to the shelterless migrants but, so far, has found few takers. Apparently, they want Adams to make good on the city’s pledge to shelter them.


The space crunch has been worsened by the Fire Department’s recent closing of five shelters, housing hundreds of migrants, because of fire-code violations.

The city said its push to get migrants to move out of shelters, using a combination of placement assistance and pressure tactics, is working: Of about 5,000 migrants who have run out their shelter time limits, fewer than 1,000 reapplied to stay in shelters. The rest have left.

So when all else fails, bullying seems to work.

Some in the media continue to blame Texas Governors Greg Abbott and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for the crush of migrants after they sent a few dozen buses north to New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. But that’s silly. There are 65,000 migrants in New York shelters, and Abbott sent less than 15% of them from Texas. Most of the migrants crowding New York shelters either arrived on their own or were bused to the city by the Biden administration.

Who’s treating the migrants “cruelly” now?



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