Crowley introduces oversight legislation for homeless services
by Benjamin Fang
May 16, 2017 | 1239 views | 0 0 comments | 102 102 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley introduced a bill last week that would create an inspector general position to oversee the city’s Department of Homeless Services (DHS).

The inspector general would monitor DHS policies and practices. Crowley said DHS’s most recent scorecards shows nearly 16,000 open violations in city shelters.

“Far too many of the city’s shelter population are placed in substandard housing in buildings with a wide range of dangerous condition,” Crowley said. “The city contracts with nonprofits for these shelters and pays them top dollar, yet the locations are crawling with thousands of violations that haven’t been addressed.”

If passed, the inspector general’s office would have a director and other staff dedicated to investigating DHS and the Human Resources Administration (HRA), both run by Commissioner Steven Banks.

According to Crowley, within the city’s Department of Investigation, there is staff with oversight over HRA, but they also focus on the Division of Youth and Family Justice and the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS).

Homelessness has become a hot-button issue in Crowley’s district, where the city has tried to site two homeless shelters, one in Glendale and another in Maspeth. Last summer, residents protested the proposed Maspeth shelter every night for weeks.

After a protracted battle with the city, the owner of the Holiday Inn Express eventually pulled out of a deal. The city still houses a few dozen homeless men in the hotel today.

Crowley and other local lawmakers came out against the city’s plan, and have been vocal critics of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s homeless policies since.

“We have a record number of homeless people in the shelter system, and too many families right now are in dangerous situations because DHS isn’t doing its job properly,” Crowley said. “The city must put measures in place to keep a watchful eye exclusively on this crisis.”

In response, DHS press secretary Isaac McGinn pointed to the mayor’s investment in the Shelter Repair Squad, an initiative launched in 2015 to identify and address shelter conditions. In 2017 alone, he said, the agency has conducted more than 4,000 conditions inspections.

More than $200 million in city funds has been allocated to make major renovations and repairs for 400 outstanding violations, McGinn said. DHS is funding repairs to resolve half of the remaining violations, with the other half addressed by shelter providers.

“We’ve increased inspections by 84 percent and reduced violations by 83 percent since last year, eliminating more than 10,400 violations in shelters citywide,” McGinn said. “We’ve also allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to make major renovations improving shelter conditions that have built up over decades and will continue that progress restoring our infrastructure.”

He also addressed Crowley’s proposed legislation, noting the overlap with existing positions.

“Our job is to streamline, not duplicate, roles and responsibilities,” McGinn said. “A dedicated inspector general for DSS already exists at the Department of Investigation.”
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