A federal judge has greenlighted a class-action settlement that expands the right of homeless or runaway youth in New York City to access essential programs and services, including group home beds, mental health services and a chance to appeal expulsions they consider unfair.
The settlement in C.W. v. New York City applies to all local current and future homeless or runaway youth ages 16 through 20, but youngsters ages 16 to 18 get the first crack at any available residential program beds.
Although the city admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement, the lawsuit nevertheless seems to have had some impact even before it was signed.
When the lawsuit was filed by the Legal Aid Society and law firm Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler in December 2013, New York City had 253 youth-specific shelter beds, a number that has since expanded to at least 750.
Under the settlement, the city agreed to assess whether the city needs more youth residential program beds for runaway and homeless youth ages 16 through 20. If so, officials must develop a plan to close the shortage. In addition, the city must budget enough money to maintain the current level of beds and services for as long as they might be needed.
“We are very pleased to have an approved settlement that will establish system-changing relief to some of New York City’s most vulnerable youth,” said Beth Hofmeister, staff attorney in the Homeless Rights Project at the Legal Aid Society, in a news release. “This settlement will ensure that homeless youth will no longer face waiting lists and other obstacles to the vital shelter and supportive services they want and need.”
In addition, the settlement requires the city to offer young people in residential programs access to any mental health services they need. As part of strengthened outreach efforts, the city must also ensure that relevant staff members know how to link young people with residential programs and services and develop how-to literature for youth to find resources on their own.
Until now, youth who were discharged from residential program beds had no recourse. But the order by Magistrate Judge Peggy Kuo of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York requires the city to create an appeals process.
The almost 7-year-old lawsuit alleged that New York City violated the rights of homeless and runaway youths under federal, state and local law by failing to provide enough youth shelters and failing to protect residents from being ejected from those that existed.
It also claimed that the city failed to provide “reasonable accommodations” in its residential programs to runaway and homeless young people with disabilities.