“The landmark victory in the 1979 lawsuit Callahan v. Carey paved the way for further legal victories that ensured the right to shelter for homeless men, women, children, and families in New York City.
Callahan v. Carey
When modern homelessness first emerged in the late 1970s, thousands of homeless New Yorkers were forced to fend for themselves on the streets, and many died or suffered terrible injuries. In 1979 a lawyer named Robert Hayes, who co-founded Coalition for the Homeless, brought a class action lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court against the City and State called Callahan v. Carey, arguing that a constitutional right to shelter existed in New York. In particular, the lawsuit pointed to Article XVII of the New York State Constitution, which declares that “the aid, care and support of the needy are public concerns and shall be provided by the state and by such of its subdivisions….”
The Coalition brought the lawsuit on behalf of all homeless men in New York City. The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, Robert Callahan, was a homeless man suffering from chronic alcoholism whom Hayes had discovered sleeping on the streets in the Bowery section of Manhattan.
On December 5, 1979, the New York State Supreme Court ordered the City and State to provide shelter for homeless men in a landmark decision that cited Article XVII of the New York State Constitution.”
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