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Report finds several violations at Queens homeless shelters

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By Tom Momberg

Safety, security and crumbling conditions were the highlight of a city Department of Investigation report released last week, following an examination of 25 Queens and Brooklyn homeless shelters.

The report detailed dozens of violations at each of the six Queens shelters that DOI inspected, finding work completed without building permits, fire code violations, emergency preparedness violations, cockroach and rodent infestations and much more.

The report said the city’s Department of Homeless Services is to blame for the decrepit conditions of many of its affiliated shelters. DHS has apparently been turning a blind eye.

The DOI found that “while the mechanisms DHS currently has in place should and often do identify health and safety concerns, DHS does insufficient follow-up to ensure that hazardous and unhealthy conditions are corrected, and little enforcement when violations, even egregious ones, persist.”

“To its credit, DHS recognizes the need for change and is reforming the way it does business to address the concerns raised in the report and better serve the city’s homeless families,” said DOI Commissioner Mark Peters. “Much work still needs to be done, and DOI will be here to monitor the progress.”

Tier II facilities in the DHS Families and Children system house over 7,400 families and are mostly run by nonprofits in non-city-owned buildings. Those facilities, like the Jamaica Family Residence, Briarwood Family Residence and the Corona Family Residence in Queens, are supposed to be subject to pretty rigorous DHS inspections.

DHS also sanctions “hotels” for about 2,050 families, citywide, for small families, single parents or single pregnant women and also leases to private residents. None of the hotels used by DHS are under contract with DHS, according to the report.

Hotels, such as the Lincoln Atlantic Motor Inn, King’s Inn Family Center and the Kingston Family Residence in Queens, are governed by statutory requirements, but they are not required to provide as many social services and are not subject to DHS inspections in the same way that Tier II facilities and cluster program facilities are.

DOI’s report said DHS’ failure to contract with shelter providers in the past had “resulted in significant negative consequences. When DHS does not bring on a shelter facility through the procurement process, it does not subject the provider to competition and does not give DHS service and price comparisons as to any other bidders.”

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), previously the chairman of the Senate Social Services Committee, said appalling conditions at many of the city’s homeless shelters had prompted him to call for investigations in the past. He said he hopes the DOI’s report will urge the city and DHS to take immediate action.

“As chair of the Senate Task Force for the Delivery of Social Services in New York City, I am committed to working toward a solution and ensuring that DHS is held responsible for the major health violations brought to light by this investigat­ion,” Avella said in a statement.

Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomberg@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

Posted 12:00 am, March 20, 2015
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