NEW YORK -- A state court ordered a temporary halt yesterday to the Giuliani administration's plan to make homeless families work for shelter, characterizing a measure that would place the children of people who fail to meet the requirement in foster care as frightening.
"We all know that the implementation of this strikes terror in the hearts of people who have children," Justice Elliott Wilk of state Supreme Court in Manhattan said. He dismissed as "a fantasy" the city lawyers' description of administrative safeguards for homeless parents who would risk expulsion from shelters and child neglect charges if they violated welfare rules.
The city had planned to start enforcing the work-for-shelter regulations Monday. The temporary restraining order issued yesterday delays implementation of the measures until a hearing Jan. 14 to determine whether the plan violates an earlier court ruling that the city cannot seek to place children in foster care solely because their families lack housing.
The order came at the end of an unusual emergency hearing presided over by two judges, Wilk and Justice Helen E. Freedman, who are both veterans of litigation over homeless families.
Freedman ruled in May 1997 that the city could move ahead with state shelter regulations, but barred it "from seeking foster care solely based upon lack of housing."
Her decision was based partly on a previous ruling by Wilk, upheld on appeal in 1989, that said such actions would violate the state constitution.
Lawyers for the homeless asked each judge separately for a temporary restraining order because of their prior rulings, but the judges agreed to hear the arguments together in Freedman's courtroom.
"I've received tremendous objections from the clergy, particularly a long letter from" Cardinal John J. O'Connor of New York, Freedman said after expressing her concerns that mothers and children would be harmed.
When Wilk and Freedman set the hearing date for January, Leonard Koerner, the chief assistant corporation counsel, pressed for a Dec. 22 date instead.
"I don't think you really have to implement this for Christmas," Wilk replied.
The city's plan would affect about 5,000 homeless families, including 9,000 children who are now in city-financed shelters and any families who apply for shelter, but are disqualified because of welfare violations.