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If Alvin Linton’s landlord gets her way, the ailing 67-year-old will soon be evicted from the northeast Bronx home he’s lived in for nearly 40 years.
Situations like Linton’s — where a senior with limited income faces the threat of homelessness — aren’t novel in New York. Recent city data shows the number of senior citizens in homeless shelters is growing.
But it’s not often that the landlord pressing for eviction is a relative — in this case Linton’s older sister. A long-running family dispute has become a two-pronged problem for the father of seven, resulting in an eviction proceeding and an order of protection against him, he said.
For just shy of a year, attorneys at the Bronx Defenders have tried to get Linton help through Adult Protective Services (APS), a state-mandated program that advocates for vulnerable adults — helping them obtain health care, fight eviction, secure public benefits and more.
APS also can petition a court for a guardian to help an adult who cannot independently make decisions or manage their own affairs. Anyone, including city housing court officials, can refer someone to APS for assistance.
But APS, run by the city Department of Social Services, has twice declined to help Linton with assistance finding alternative housing — such as an assisted living facility or obtaining a voucher to help pay rent, according to Ryan MacDonald, an attorney with the Defenders’ Civil Action Practice.
“His income right now is like $557, maybe a little bit more than that,” MacDonald said. “But it’s only SSI, it’s really not enough that he will be able to afford a place on his own.”
Half Blind and on Dialysis
Linton has diabetes and end-stage kidney disease, which requires him to undergo dialysis three times a week, according to his attorneys. He’s also blind in one eye, and had triple bypass surgery two years ago.
Yet when he sought help last March, Adult Protective Services rejected him. Bronx Defenders advocated on the senior’s behalf and managed to get a case opened, only to later learn it had been shut.
In November, the lawyers tried again, but were told Linton has “sufficient mental and physical capacity” and doesn’t require aid.
“They said nothing is wrong with me,” Linton told THE CITY after a recent Housing Court hearing on his eviction.
Beside him was a little black bag containing several medications.
“I walk with a pharmacy,” he said, shuffling the amber bottles in the cloth sack.
Last Wednesday, a state hearing officer ruled that the city Department of Social Services wrongly rejected Linton — and ordered an immediate evaluation and, potentially, housing assistance.
Of nine similar appeals of DSS decisions to deny APS applications heard by the state’s office of Temporary and Disability Assistance this year, hearing officers backed the agency three times.
Six had DSS decisions reversed, most with orders for APS to “immediately conduct a proper evaluation” of the applicant’s eligibility for services.
Linton, though, is still waiting.
“I can’t identify another elderly person who is more eligible for their help,” said Simmi Kaur, another Bronx Defenders lawyer on Linton’s legal team.
High Bar for Help
Officials at the city’s social services department said they could not comment on Linton’s case because of confidentiality laws.
The cases that APS takes on must meet a high bar, said Isaac McGinn, a Department of Social Services spokesperson.
Program rules say that APS clients must have mental or physical impairments that make them unable to “meet their essential needs,” be at risk of harm, and have no one willing to help them.
While anyone can make a referral to APS, most come from Housing Courts and NYCHA, according to the city Independent Budget Office. Eviction is the third most common risk factor for APS clients, the IBO’s analysis found, behind inability to manage finances and difficulties with daily activities.
APS receives about 30,000 applications for aid a year, according to the most recent Mayor’s Management Report. More than 9,400 people who were referred to APS for assistance in the first six months of last year were found ineligible.
Of those, some 132 prospective clients died before a determination could be made.
The data is available because of a 2015 law introduced by Councilmember Stephen Levin (D-Brooklyn) requiring reports on APS rejections.
The number of cases the agency handles is growing, the IBO found — increasing 37% between fiscal years 2014 and 2018, from 5,406 to 7,407.
The most recent Mayor’s Management Report shows the number of cases dipped in fiscal year 2019, to 6,942.
McGinn declined to say how many cases APS currently has open, or to provide any statistics on housing assistance it provides to clients.
In a statement, he said: “Through this administration’s first-in-the-nation right-to-counsel plan and 21-fold increase in investment in legal services, we’ve driven evictions down more than 30% citywide — and intend to take that progress further. This individual’s Housing Court case is ongoing.
“We’re proud to be funding his legal representation, with Bronx Defenders working hard to prevent his eviction, and we’re hopeful that his legal rights will be vindicated by the court.”
Eye on the Subway
If evicted, Linton said he will gather his belongings and live in the subway system. He noted that he wouldn’t feel safe in a shelter.
When asked how he will keep his insulin at the proper temperature on trains and inside stations, Linton conceded that was a concern but said he didn’t have another option. Only one of his children lives in the city and cannot take him in.
The subway system is already a haven for him anyway. “Sometimes I’m so lonely I get up and ride the train,” Linton said.
He is not alone. More than 1,400 adults over 65 are in city shelters, but that number does not count the “people who are on the streets and in the subways,” noted Jacquelyn Simone, policy analyst at Coalition for the Homeless.
Experts who’ve looked at the issue project the number of homeless seniors in the city to dramatically increase by 2030.
“It can be really challenging for seniors to both navigate the daily stress and trauma of homelessness and it can be difficult for them to move out of homelessness and into housing,” said Simone, who also notes that many homeless seniors also have health challenges.
Linton’s health has complicated his search, his lawyers say.
“Obviously, for any low-income person in New York City, it’s next to impossible to find an apartment. For somebody like my client who’s severely, severely disabled, it literally is impossible without the kind of help that he really should be getting from something like Adult Protective Services,” MacDonald told THE CITY.
While still waiting to hear from APS, Linton also awaits a decision from Bronx Housing Court on his eviction. An attorney for Linton’s family did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Linton’s lawyers are hopeful he will get aid in time.
“We are all going to be old one day,” said Kaur. “You’d think our society would give a s—.”
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