Gary Jenkins, head of the city’s embattled Department of Social Services (DSS), is set to resign from his post next month, marking the latest high-profile departure since Mayor Eric Adams took office just over a year ago.
Jenkins’ exit comes as the agency he oversees has had to contend with finding shelter for a large portion of the over 44,000 South and Central American migrants — roughly 26,700 of whom are in the city’s care — who’ve been arriving here for almost a year. And the city continues to contend with the sprawling homelessness crisis that predated the asylum seeker influx.
Yet in an interview with Spectrum News NY1’s Errol Lewis Tuesday night, where Jenkins officially announced his impending departure, the outgoing social services commissioner insisted he’s leaving to “explore other opportunities” — but didn’t reveal what those opportunities may be.
“After 36 years of being a public servant, and really serving the most vulnerable New Yorkers, I’ve decided to step from my position as commissioner for the Department of Social Services and explore other opportunities that’s been presented to me,” Jenkins said. “More to come within the month or so. Just going to take some time off, decompress, spend some quality time with my family. And then get back into this in the month of April.”
Jenkins insisted his stepping down was “something I was already planning to do” and not an attempt to run away from the multiple crises his agency is currently facing.
“This is something I was definitely already planning to do,” Jenkins said. “I’m really proud and privileged to serve under Mayor Eric Adams. He’s a phenomenal leader, a caring person, just the epitome of a professional. So no, there’s no discord, there’s no running away.”
Jenkins is leaving the agency — which includes both the city’s Department of Homeless Services and its Human Resources Administration — after only serving in the role for a little over a year, having been appointed to the position last January. His last day will be March 3.
Shortly after Jenkins made the announcement, Adams released a statement praising the outgoing social services head for his decades of service within the agency and his work to get — Adams claims — over 1,100 homeless individuals living on the subways into shelters. Plus, he said, Jenkins brought those with a lived experience of homelessness together to assist in crafting his administration’s housing and homelessness plans.
“Under his leadership, the Department of Social Services invested a historic amount to support unsheltered New Yorkers — bringing and keeping more than 1,100 people living on our subways into shelter as part of our Subway Safety Plan and inviting those with lived experiences to the table to help craft our housing and homelessness plans,” the mayor said.
“Commissioner Jenkins also brought his own experience living in a shelter as a child to the job, a unique understanding of the struggles families in shelters face, and a steadfast commitment to treating all of our clients with dignity and care,” he added. “I’m incredibly grateful to Gary for his decades of service and wish him the very best in his next chapter.”
But Jenkins’ tenure hasn’t been without scandal.
Last summer, he became the subject of a city Department of Investigation probe over allegations he failed to alert the mayor’s office that DSS had violated the city’s “right to shelter” law in July, by not finding housing for four migrant families within the legally mandated time frame. As a result, they had to sleep on the floor of the agency’s Bronx intake center overnight.
Additionally, Jenkins came under fire for taking a two-week vacation in August, while the city was first struggling to house the, at that time 7,600, asylum seekers showing up at the Port Authority Bus Terminal each day.
Adams fiercely defended both Jenkins’ ability to capably handle the asylum seeker influx and his right to take a vacation amid the crisis.
Jenkins is the fourth high-ranking Adams administration official to depart his administration in the 13 months since he first moved into Gracie Mansion. Adams’ first chief of staff, Frank Carone, and original first deputy mayor, Lorraine Grillo, both left their positions at the start of the year. And Eric Ulrich, his first buildings department commissioner, resigned last November after getting ensnared in an illegal gambling investigation by the Manhattan DA’s office.