Report Blames City Agency for Atrocious Conditions in Homeless Shelters

March 12, 2015 | Prachi Gupta

A year-long investigation into the city’s homeless shelters by the city Department of Investigation has revealed extreme neglect by the Department of Homeless Services. “At its worst, DHS is turning a blind eye to violations that threaten the lives of shelter residents,” reads the report, analyzed by DNAinfo.

Shelters offer temporary housing to approximately 12,000 families. The report surveyed just 25 family shelters, home to 2,000 families:

Investigators found a total of 621 building violations across the 25 shelters, and conditions including “a dead rat in a cluster apartment where four children lived, the decaying smell of which permeated the hallways; 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.”

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Aside from the egregious violations, the report also found that DHS is significantly overpaying private landlords — sometimes up to three times market rate — for housing that is not well-maintained.

The DHS is supposed to have internal checks in place to keep things from getting this bad, but those, too, have failed:

“DHS has put in place numerous checks and balances that are designed to ensure that its homeless facilities meet these standards,” the report said. “Yet, for the 25 sites reviewed, those checks and balances are failing.”

The cluster sites need “the most immediate action,” according to the report. The report does not specify what action to take.

The report, conducted at the request of Mayor Bill de Blasio, lists a series of recommendations for DHS which include setting up an internal auditing system, working more closely with government agencies, creating a security plan, bringing shelter contracts under city enforcement and imposing fines against DHS for breaking compliance.

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The ball is now in the DHS’s court:

“As part of DHS’ commitment to strengthen and improve our shelter system, we worked closely with DOI during their examination of 25 shelters for families with children throughout the city. We will use the report’s recommendations to further inform our system-wide reform work that is currently underway,” said DHS Commissioner Gilbert Taylor. “We have already begun implementing corrective actions in the areas referenced in the report, and pressing problems have either been addressed, or are in the process of being corrected.”

(Photo: Dan Dickinson)