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Too many NYC family homeless shelters 'unsafe,' in need of aggressive reform: DOI

The Auburn Family Residence, a shelter for homeless

The Auburn Family Residence, a shelter for homeless families and individuals in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Photo Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Some of New York City's homeless shelters are not much better than the streets, according to a sobering new report by the Department of Investigation.

A probe into the family shelters run by NYC Department of Homeless Services, which houses 11,900 homeless families with children, found them “too often unsafe and unhealthy for children and families,” according to the report, which blames "decades of neglect” and calls for “aggressive immediate as well as long term reform efforts.”

The investigation was done at the request of Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Of the 25 shelters inspected, 621 city violations were issued, the report says, with “cluster sites” —  apartment buildings shared by homeless and renting families —  representing the worst of it.

Cluster sites were found to suffer from lax security and squalid conditions, including a decaying dead rat in an apartment with four children, “roaches scattering as inspectors knocked on doors, garbage in the stairways and hallways, and in one location, a puddle of urine in the building’s only functional elevator.”

Basic fire safety violations, such as obstructed exits, often by trash, and lack of smoke detectors were found across shelter types.

Tier II shelters, which often provide private rooms, three meals a day and/or cooking apparatus and social services, were found to be in the best condition, but violated an array of safety regulations including one that posesses a Certificate of Occupancy for an eight-family dwelling, but houses up to 191 families, according to the investigation.

The DOI reports that the DHS had agreed to implement recommendations aimed at reforming the city's homeless shelters, including coming up with a plan to provide 24/7 security at cluster sites and closing non-compliant shelters.

Upon receiving the report, Coalition for the Homeless President and CEO Mary Brosnahan called upon the mayor for help.

“The most efficient and cost-effective way to stop the insane reliance on dangerous cluster-site housing is for the mayor to increase the availability of NYCHA apartments to more rapidly move families with young children out of these hell holes and into stability," she said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

“The city has a legal and moral obligation to provide these families – mostly women and children – with shelters that are at minimum clean and safe, and we are heartened that DOI has provided a roadmap for improving conditions at these shelters,” she said.

At an unrelated news conference, the mayor was asked why he called for the investigation.

“Typically, I don't initiate personally such a thing, he said. “DOI has a vision of its role, which I agree with 100% - in fact, we added resources to DOI in last year's budget so they could play an even more rigorous role in some agencies. DOI looks for problems in a way that is different than would be done by people who work for the same agency.”

“And what we have found is that often times, as DOI formulates a vision for the kind of changes needed, our agencies are right there with them wanting to implement those changes as quickly as possible,” he continued.


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