New York City’s sending the homeless to Newark causes legal clash

Around 1,198 homeless New York City families have been relocated to Newark, NJ.
Around 1,198 homeless New York City families have been relocated to Newark, NJ.
SHU2260/Shutterstock
Around 1,198 homeless New York City families have been relocated to Newark, NJ.

New York City’s sending the homeless to Newark causes legal clash

The Big Apple’s smaller neighbor filed a lawsuit over the practice.
December 3, 2019

Newark, New Jersey filed a lawsuit against New York City on Monday for transporting members of its homeless population there and setting them up in housing, the New York Post reports.

“Newark is concerned about the living conditions of perhaps one thousand or more SOTA (Special One-Time Assistance) recipients,” states the complaint, obtained by the Post. “From the small sample of SOTA recipients that Newark was able to identify, Newark has become aware of families, including those with infants, that are living in uninhabitable conditions.”

The suit continues to explain that some people have been sent to live in homes that lack heat and electricity, have a large number of pests and are generally not up to code. 

The Special One-Time Assistance program pays for a year’s worth of rent as well as relocation services within the state, to other states or to Puerto Rico. The program is available to working individuals and families who receive Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability benefits, granted they show the ability to pay their rent in the future.

On Nov. 23, the Newark City Council passed a law blocking New York City’s homeless population from being transplanted there, the Post reported. About 5,074 homeless families have been relocated from the city since the program began in August 2017, and 1,198 found themselves in Newark as of Aug. 31 – more than any other city.

Newark isn’t the only place fed up with the Special One-Time Assistance program. In 2018, Broome County Executive Jason Garnar also voiced his concern with the program, asking the city to stop sending its homeless to the county in the Southern Tier. "We are asking New York City to immediately stop using its SOTA program, or any other process, to illegally transfer its homeless people to Broome County,” said Garnar. “We have put New York City on notice. This is illegal, and it ends today."

Newark’s suit also names New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, specifically, in its complaint. “I believe, and I thought we were trying to work toward common-sense solutions, and I still want to work toward common solutions. That’s my attitude,” de Blasio said, when asked about the suit on NY1’s “Inside City Hall” on Monday.

Programs of the same ilk, however, have been in effect since Michael Bloomberg was mayor. In 2009, the Bloomberg administration came under fire for spending $500,000 a year to send its homeless to other states – part of the city’s Project Reconnect program which launched in 2007 and has since been engulfed by the Special One-Time Assistance program – which critics allege does not actually curb homelessness. “The city is engaged in cosmetics,” Arnold S. Cohen, the president and chief executive of the Partnership for the Homeless, told The New York Times in 2009. “What we’re doing is passing the problem of homelessness to another city. We’re taking people from a shelter bed here to the living room couch of another family. Essentially, this family is still homeless.”

But has the program actually been effective in getting the homeless back on their feet? 

In February, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka voiced concerns regarding the program and its efficacy, suggesting that the influx of the city’s homeless was burdening his city. Spokespeople for the NYC Department of Homeless Services shot back at Baraka’s complaints, pointing to data that shows only 70 clients out of 3,539 households who used the program ended up back on the streets. Despite critics uneasiness with the program, data suggests that it has worked at its stated purpose – which is not to say that shipping the city’s homeless off to other locations isn’t as callous as it sounds. 

Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
is City & State's web reporter and social media editor.
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