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Editorial: City Hall is no help for New York’s homeless

To be homeless in New York is tragic enough, but the way the city's handled the homelessness crisis seems even more so. (Photo by Mark Hallum)

With apologies to the late Ronald Reagan, the nine most terrifying words a New Yorker could hear are, “I’m from Homeless Services, and I’m here to help.” 

Actually, it’s not just the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) that New Yorkers should fear. They should also fear its parent agencies, the Human Resources Administration (HRA) and the Department of Social Services (DSS).

Together, this three-headed monster of bad government has utterly failed the most vulnerable people of New York City: the more than 60,000 individuals who sleep in shelters or out on the street every night.

The DHS-DSS-HRA track record for handling homelessness over the last several years has been abysmal, to put it kindly. Their approach to “help” hasn’t seem to change anything for the better. Their record speaks for itself, and we’ve got the receipts.

Their efforts to create new, large shelters have inflamed tensions in communities across New York.

Too many shelters are operated like prisons, with security guards, enforced curfews and reports of violence.

They’ve hastily converted hotels into temporary and permanent shelters, sometimes doing so even without proper utilities available at the start.

They’ve failed to provide proper assistance to domestic violence victims who can’t go home. 

They’ve allowed a vendor to serve expired food to Brooklyn homeless shelter residents, making them sick, leading to a multimillion-dollar lawsuit.

The many proposed solutions as part of a plan to “Turning the Tide on Homelessness” hasn’t made a significant dent. The number of homeless New Yorkers continues to hit record highs year after year.

And here’s the latest debacle: the HRA “Special One-Time Assistance” SOTA program which connects homeless New Yorkers to housing available outside of the city, primarily in New Jersey.

The city of Newark earlier this week filed a federal lawsuit against the de Blasio administration seeking to stop the program because homeless persons were being placed in subpar housing in Newark operated by unscrupulous landlords.

At first, de Blasio denounced the lawsuit, telling NY1 on Monday, “Whenever we’re trying to help people in need, we want to make sure that their circumstance is appropriate and this is something that’s been always a challenge to make sure you’re getting what you expect to get for those rental vouchers and make sure things are handled right.” In other words, don’t blame us for bad landlords in New Jersey.

But on Thursday, New York City’s Department of Investigation seemed to acknowledge the lawsuit’s claims in a scathing report of the SOTA program. The DOI probe “found several deficiencies in processes and placement in units without valid occupancy certifications, without heat, and with insect and vermin infestations.”

Moreover, according to the DOI, the HRA sent housing specialists to examine potential homes in New Jersey who were “not properly trained to detect health and safety hazards, and some did not conduct the required inspection despite documenting that they had.”

Even more maddening: the city paid these bad landlords up to a year’s worth of rent payments in advance, using city taxpayer dollars, to put up homeless people in dilapidated housing.

The DSS says its taken corrective action to ensure homeless persons are placed in proper housing going forward. We find it utterly disgraceful that they didn’t think of this from the beginning.

Let’s be real: This wasn’t a humanitarian mission; the three-headed monster obviously didn’t care where these homeless individuals were going.

If they cared, they would have had the foresight to properly check every landlord that wished to participate in it.

If they cared, they would have made sure to send properly-trained individuals to inspect every apartment and rule out the ones that lacked proper utilities and/or exhibited signs of pest infestation.

If they cared, they would have got it right the first time — especially in light of the myriad, exposed problems regarding how the DHS-DSS-HRA shelters homeless New Yorkers.

Mayor de Blasio: Please do something, at last, to help the homeless without a bureaucracy that makes things worse.

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