The Man Who Was Homeless and Won (Sort of)

McCain later described her first night at Martinique as “one of the worst nights of my life.” She found the mattress burned, torn and covered with urine on both sides, and the window jammed open; The two rooms she was assigned were on the 11th floor. She later recalled, “I stayed up all night crying,” terrified that if I didn’t watch them, one of my babies might fall out. window “. No heat or cooling and sometimes no running water. She put milk on the window ledge to keep it cold and hung the food bag from the nail to the wall to protect it from rats and mice. She foamed the mattress with disinfectant and, finally, captured a feral cat to fight off rodents. Every morning, after accompanying the children on their way to school in Brooklyn, McCain rummaged through newspaper listings and found affordable housing.

“At the time, I had absolutely no idea what Martinique was like,” said Marcella Silverman, the Legal Aid attorney who helped McCain find emergency housing. When she visited McCain’s room, she felt that she was looking into a violation of the law. Before long, attorneys from Legal Aid had become regular visitors to the city’s reception hotels and offices, looking for other families in similar circumstances – arbitrarily rejected. , providing substandard emergency housing or without notice of the city’s decision on their case – who may be willing to join McCain in a class-action lawsuit seeking temporary shelter for families. “This is a practice case,” says Silverman. “We had to demonstrate how the city works. And the only way to prove a certain act is to bring it before the court as many people as possible are harmed.”

Shelter-in-places have built New York City’s shelter and service systems in many ways large and small. The city, essentially overnight, found itself legally obligated to thousands of people and provided minimum shelter standards that could be enforced by the court system. It attempted to convert unused hospitals, schools and warehouses – large, empty and publicly owned buildings. “We just needed volume,” said Bonnie Stone, then an assistant deputy administrator in the Human Resources Department. “Every day, we are looking for new places.” The shelters are often opened without notice, under the cover of night.

A family shelter that was briefly opened in the unused Bronx prison had to close after inspectors hired by Legal Aid found leaded paint. In other shelters, Legal Aid detects violations of fire and safety regulations or hires inspectors to detect dangerous levels of asbestos, allowing Banks to file mandatory petitions The city must find a safer place to live. The city repeatedly missed deadlines he convinced the court to impose, and court orders requiring a limited, legal solution to one problem could create scores of other problems. . With each violation, Banks went to court, demanding enforcement. By the mid-1990s, he was responsible for enforcing the city’s compliance in cases brought to him by Hayes, bringing any claim to shelter under his purview.

Before long, city officials would be making day-to-day decisions with courtroom oversight. “The previous system essentially asked a controversial question: Do you qualify for shelter?” Linda Gibbs, then commissioner of the DHS, told reporters in 2004. “Now, instead of hiring investigators, we are hiring staff with a background in social services. We assume the families that come to us have problems and we ask, ‘How can we help?’ ” fear that the reports they make internally will be pre-subpoenaed by Legal Aid. A former DHS commissioner told public policy scholar Thomas Main that when he was considering the job, a city attorney asked him to make sure he really wanted it, “because he is about to be named in more than 70 lawsuits.”

Through decades of work on shelter rights, Banks understands the shelter and services system better than anyone else, in no small part because, directly or indirectly, it was built in response to the needs of the community. what he convinced the court to ask. . By the time the McCain case was resolved, in 2008, with the final ruling permanently preserving the right to shelter, a system that barely served a few hundred people had become a city within a city, provided emergency housing for 35,000 people, and a body of law was built block by block along it.

Thomas Crane, New York City’s chief of general litigation, estimates that in his nearly four decades as the city’s attorney, he’s spent more time on homeless cases than anything else. . Crane said that “in the bad old days,” they were in court “weekly or every other week, and when we weren’t in court, we were writing papers to address the actions being taken.” ,” I said. Within 18 months, the city filed more than 300,000 pages with the court. “Steve knows what data is there and he wants to get his hands on it,” says Crane. “And we had a lot of dirty laundry.” He added, “They drove us crazy.” The Man Who Was Homeless and Won (Sort of)

Fry Electronics Team

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