Legal Aid Society wants separate hotel rooms for homeless during COVID-19

The Legal Aid Society says homeless people can’t socially distance in shelters or in shared hotel rooms, so the group is demanding the city provide separate hotel rooms for each person during the pandemic, new court papers show.

The legal group filed suit on behalf of five homeless people — who have risk factors that make them particularly vulnerable if they contract COVID-19 — claiming their clients have been forced to live variously in shelters or rooms with others or even on the streets during the pandemic.

While the city has already begun to move some homeless people into hotel rooms during the coronavirus crisis, those people have been forced to share the rooms with other non-family members — which doesn’t allow them to safely socially distance, the Manhattan Supreme Court suit says.

“As a result, people living in congregate shelters and double occupancy hotel rooms continue to test positive for the virus and carry it, in their daily activities, throughout the City,” the court papers allege.

And still others who don’t want to risk contracting the virus in shelters or in shared rooms have even been forced to live on the streets, the court documents say.

“This once-in-a-century pandemic requires the City to shift from housing our clients in congregate shelters to providing shelter where clients can safely social distance in order to comply with public health guidance,” Legal Aid’s Josh Goldfein said in a statement. “It is cruel and unacceptable to place the health and lives of thousands of homeless individuals at needless risk when the City has the resources and space to appropriately house our clients in single-occupancy hotel rooms for the remainder of the pandemic.”

Legal Aid wants a judge to allow it to file suit as a class action and wants the judge to force the city to provide separate hotel rooms for plaintiffs throughout the pandemic.

Department of Social Services and Department of Homeless services spokesman Isaac McGinn said the suit is without merit and noted that the city has already moved almost 10,000 people out of shelters and into hotels.

McGinn added that through testing and other efforts, the city has been able to flatten the curve among the homeless population.

“Our approach is working, so we will stay the course — and our actions will be guided by the science and data in determining when it is safe to return to congregate shelters, including closely monitoring health indicators with health experts at the New York City Health Department,” McGinn said.

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