The city’s Department of Homeless Services (DHS) has failed to meet the needs of the unhoused, particularly those battling mental illness, a new audit from state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli charged Thursday.
DiNapoli’s report appeared to back up what many rough sleepers have been complaining to amNewYork Metro about for years now – that DHS is not serving their best interests. Released on Dec. 1, the audit examined the outreach service’s assessment and placement of those experiencing homelessness and found evaluations deficient when it came to those with a background of mental illness or substance abuse and ultimately failed to give them the aid they require.
“The Department of Social Services must do a better job helping some of the city’s most vulnerable people,” DiNapoli said. “My latest audit shows that too often the department did not properly place homeless individuals with specialized needs in appropriate shelters where they could receive the support they need to get back on their feet and on the path to stable housing. DHS’ shortcomings can have serious implications. It’s my hope that DHS uses the audit findings and recommendations to improve its operations.”
During the DHS intake process, homeless individuals are gauged in order to determine their needs and the kind of shelter placement they require such as substance abuse, mental health, senior services, and more. However, the audit alleges that one-in-four undomiciled New Yorkers in need were not placed in a mental health shelter.
According to the State Comptroller’s office, DHS does not utilize all available data when assessing individuals. In addition, auditors found instances where clients were assessed and placed in shelters that did not match the information documented by caseworkers and delays in placement.
The Comptroller’s office reported that auditors looked at some 17,244 homeless individuals who were in DHS’ Client Demographic Report and examined their current shelter/program assignment and length of stay. Of these, auditors found 3,022 who were diagnosed with serious mental illnesses that should have qualified them for a mental health shelter. However, 26% (795) were not placed in a mental health shelter.
Shockingly, investigations also produced results that discovered some people with known mental health conditions were placed in general shelter systems and caused injury or death to themselves or others, such as one schizophrenia individual who was placed in a general shelter despite recommendations to the contrary. This person was then transferred to three other non-mental health shelters following violent incidents. After multiple psychotic and violent incidents, the individual left a shelter and was charged with murdering a person in a robbery about six weeks later.
DiNapoli’s audit also found placement to be an issue in senior shelters as well. A whopping 43% of seniors were placed in general, non-senior shelters, auditors found, while beds in senior shelters were not being reserved for seniors. Some 103 of the 368 beds (28%) were given to clients who were younger than 65.
amNewYork Metro reached out to DSS-DHS for comment and is awaiting a response.