Council Passes Bill Requiring More Rigorous Customer Service Training for Shelter Personnel

Image credit: New York City Council.

On April 16, 2023, NYC adopted Local Law 49 of 2003. The new law was originally introduced as Int. 431 in 2002 by Council Member Rafael Salamanca. Local Law 49 will require the Department of Homeless Services to provide biannual customer service training to employees working in the city’s homeless shelters. The law was enacted just months after a Venezuelan asylum seeker in a shelter was struck in the face by a DHS officer in September 2022.

The law reflects ongoing efforts by the City Council to improve the New York City shelter system. Just a few weeks earlier, for example, the Council enacted Local Law 26, a bill that requires the Department of Homeless Services to more closely monitor the status of families living in shelters.

Similar to Local Law 26, Local Law 49 is aimed at improving the interactions between shelter residents and shelter employees. Twice per year, shelter personnel who have direct contact with shelter residents will now receive training that will equip them with techniques to improve professionalism, increase cultural sensitivity, and de-escalate conflict. The training will also implement a trauma-informed approach to interactions with shelter residents.

Mariccka Scott-McFadden at the New York City Department of Social Services offered testimony that DHS already conducts customer service training but expressed its eagerness to “further understand” the aims of the proposals. Other organizations such as Brooklyn Defenders testified its support for the bill, noting that DHS’s current policies inappropriately label individuals as victims of domestic violence. Shelter residents often have no opportunity to contest these reports, which later prevent a family from living together if they seek reentry in the shelter.

The Coalition for the Homeless and the Legal Aid Society offered testimony in support of the bill as well, emphasizing that “it is imperative that New Yorkers in crisis are served with compassionate, culturally competent, and welcoming staff” because negative interactions can deter families from seeking shelter services altogether.

Local Law 49 will go into effect in August of this year.

By: Jacqueline Lacovara (Jacqueline is a New York Law School student, Class of 2024.)


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