Brooklyn federal judge approves class action settlement in homeless youth lawsuit
Magistrate Judge Peggy Kuo of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn has approved a class action settlement in C.W. v. The City of New York, a lawsuit brought by the Legal Aid Society and Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP that expands access to essential, life-saving youth programs and services for runaway and homeless youth ages 16-20 in New York City.
Under the settlement, the city will implement procedural changes regarding how city agencies manage homeless youth, improving the system for all young people ages 16-20 who will enter it going forward.
“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. “We are infinitely grateful to our eleven named plaintiffs who bravely came forward to better the lives of thousands of other runaway and homeless youth.”
C.W. v. The City of New York was filed in December 2013 on behalf of a group of runaway and homeless young people who were denied essential services and shelter by the city. The lawsuit alleged that the city violated the plaintiffs’ rights under federal law, the New York City Human Rights Law, and a state statute — the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act of 1978 — by failing to provide, or ejecting them from, youth shelters.
The lawsuit also claimed that the city is required to provide reasonable accommodations in residential programs to runaways and homeless young people with disabilities, and that a young person in a residential program must have a chance to argue against an involuntary discharge if they feel the residential program’s plan to discharge them is unfair.
Since plaintiffs filed the lawsuit, the city has increased the total number of class-serving youth-specific shelter beds from 253 in 2013 to more than 750 beds.
Under the settlement, according to the Legal Aid Society, the city is required to implement the following systemic changes:
- Prioritize youth residential program beds to all 16- and 17-year-olds who request them.
- Assess whether NYC needs more youth residential program beds for runaway and homeless youth ages 16 – 20 and come up with a plan to add beds if needed. The city must also continue to provide enough money to maintain the current number of youth residential program beds and services for runaway and homeless youth, so long as there is reasonable demand for those beds.
- Provide all young people who are staying in youth residential programs with access to mental health services if they need them.
- Ensure that staff at the Department of Homeless Services is trained to tell young people about youth residential programs.
- Ensure there are publications and notices explaining how youth can access residential programs and services in NYC.
- Provide a process for young people to challenge decisions that they feel will discharge them from youth residential programs unfairly.
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