Home to nearly 58,000 people, including 23,000 children, NYC’s shelters have been a “daily nightmare” for families where conditions were "deplorable," charged Comptroller Scott Stringer.
In an audit that shed light where NYC’s Department of Homeless Services has "fallen, tragically, horribly short," Stringer said at a press conference Monday.
"Many of them went to bed last night in dangerous, unprotected buildings and when they woke up this morning, DHS still had no plan in place for getting them out of the shelter system and into permanent housing," Stringer said.
The audit — which sampled 101 randomly selected housing units out of the city’s 155 shelters serving families with children — focused on families placed in shelters in 2013 and 2014 who were then still living in shelters in October, 2015.
It found that DHS allowed shelter providers to self-monitor facilities without oversight and at the same time, failed to meet their own goal to transition families into long-term housing. According to the audit, oral agreements were made with shelters instead of written contracts.
Stringer highlighted a case example of a family with five children displaced from a fire. Put into a neighboring apartment, the family lived with the stench for over a month, which came at a heavy health price. The children experienced frequent nosebleeds and the mother, who had asthma, ended up in the hospital from difficulty breathing, Stringer said.
Stringer's report comes as Mayor De Blasio embarks on a series of overhauls with policy and staff, such as last week’s departure of his commissioner of Homeless Services and the implementation of an aggressive program called HOME-STAT, a 90-day review of the organizational structure of DHS and last month’s massive $2.6 billion housing investment.
While the Stringer audit found that 53 percent of the apartments had roaches, rodents and vermin, it also found 87 percent of the apartments had such issues like malfunctioning smoke detectors, blocked fire escapes, mold and mildew.
Citing citywide case samples that showed the “dreadful conditions” as well as gaps in fundamental security, Stringer talked about a building site which had one guard stationed in the main building amongst 15 other buildings housing 300 families.
“Anyone can walk in right off the street and do whatever they please,” Stringer said.
DHS officials told his auditors that they relied on shelter systems to self-report because it was “not reasonable for them to be aware of all shelter conditions.”
Pinpointing the problem, Stringer said DHS was “horribly understaffed” as the audit found 14 program analysts assigned to oversee 155 shelters with 12,500 families.
“I found this (audit) particularly upsetting…as a parent, it’s very hard to see kids living in such filthy, unsafe conditions and not be shaken to the core,” Stringer said. “There’s absolutely no excuse for any of this.
Stringer called on De Blasio’s administration to hire a deputy mayor to create a bold new action plan on homelessness, while calling on DHS to get their house in order so that they can invest in staff and resources so that families can move out of the shelter system.
"As part of the comprehensive operational review just announced by Mayor de Blasio, we will carefully consider the issues raised in the audit and other reviews of the Department’s operations so that we can continue to improve shelter conditions and safety and help more individuals exit shelter as quickly as possible,” said Steven Banks, commissioner of the Human Resources Administration.