Callahan v. Carey, No. 79-42582 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. County, Cot. 18, 1979)

Class action law suit under Article XVII, §1 of the New York State Constitution by homeless men for “the aid, care and support of the needy”. Whether action is justiciable. Temporary mandatory injunction ordering State to provide adequate shelter. Right to assistance. Minimum standards. Supervision of Consent Decree.

Date of the Ruling: 
Dec 5 1979
Supreme Court of New York
Type of Forum: 

Callahan was a class-action suit on behalf of homeless men in the Bowery area of Manhattan seeking a temporary mandatory injunction requiring the City of New York to provide shelter to homeless men. The applicants relied on Article XVII, §1 of the State Constitution, requiring that the State provide “for the aid, care and support of the needy in such manner and by such means, as the legislature may from time to time determine.” The brief cited legislative history from the 1938 New York constitutional convention to argue that the section was intended to confer rights to those who must look to society for the bare necessities of life. The trial judge accepted evidence that during previous winters homeless men had suffered loss of limbs from frostbite, that several had died, and that the coming winter would be worse because of the closing down of several shelters. The court ordered a temporary injunction requiring the provision of shelter. The plaintiffs and defendants entered into a consent decree requiring New York City to furnish sufficient beds to meet the needs of every homeless man applying for shelter provided that he qualifies on the basis of need standards for relief and is in need of temporary shelter “by reason of physical, mental or social disfunction.” The Callahan decree also set minimum shelter standards regarding width and construction of shelter beds; the provision of supplies; and required that the city provide ‘clear written information' to shelter applicants ‘concerning other public assistance to which they may be entitled. The trial judge maintained jurisdiction over the ongoing enforcement of the decree.

Keywords: Callahan v. Carey, No. 79-42582 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. County, Cot. 18, 1979), Housing, Right

Enforcement of the Decision and Outcomes: 

Robert Callahan died on the streets of the City before the Consent Decree was signed. Right to shelter was extended to homeless women in Eldredge v. Koch, 98 AD2d 675 (1st Dept. 1983) and to homeless families in McCain v. Koch, 117 AD2d 198 (1st Dept. 1987), rev'd in part, 70 NY2d 109. Cases of severe hypothermia and death among homeless dropped dramatically after the decree. Appellate Division ruled in 2003 that refusing shelter for 30 days as means of enforcing new welfare rules is consistent with Consent Decree.

Groups involved in the case: 

Case brought by Robert Hayes, attorney and founder of The Coalition for the Homeless The National Coalition for the Homeless was created 5 years after the Callahan judgment to advocate nationally.

Significance of the Case: 

This case was an historic victory in a legal system that is not friendly to ESC rights. It has been the basis for ongoing advocacy and further litigation to enforce the order, co-ordinated by the Coalition for the Homeless. The decree and its ongoing judicial enforcement is an early model for long-term enforcement of complex remedies to ESC rights violations. The trial judge's reference to the homeless as “flotsam and jetsum”, however, demonstrates the prevalent attitudes toward the homeless.