The NYC Department of Investigation released an extremely grim report about the horrible conditions at the city's homeless shelters. After studying 25 shelters operated by the Department of Homeless Services, the DOI found that the buildings "exposed residents to serious health and safety violations such as extensive vermin infestations, blocked or obstructed means of egress, non-working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and improper and/or missing Certificates of Occupancy."
The DOI also pointed out, "These problems are not new; indeed they are the inheritance of decades of neglect. In fact, all of the facilities inspected were brought into the DHS portfolio in previous administrations. However, to be clear, these problems have continued and there can be no further delay in addressing them."
The 25 shelters house about 2,000 of NYC's 11,900 homeless families. According to the DOI, as a result of the study, "621 building, housing, and fire safety violations were issued. DOI’s investigation also found that for years DHS has not used the City’s contracting process to secure providers, and failed to enforce current contracts, thereby severely diminishing the City’s ability to hold providers accountable, particularly when they fail to fix safety violations or meet standards. "
Some of the shelters examined by the DOI are called "cluster buildings," which house both shelter families and renting families:
While there are challenges, some significant, with all the shelter models, the inspected clusters were found to be the worst maintained, the most poorly monitored, and to have provided the least adequate social services to families. While, ideally, clusters could provide a useful and unique purpose in that they house large families, usually in two-to-three bedroom apartments, DOI investigators observed these buildings to be run down, filthy, and often riddled with rats, mice and/or roaches. Moreover, security was non-existent. Complaints from clients about all the cluster buildings inspected by DOI concerned client safety, longstanding disrepair of the units, and roach and/or rat infestations. In many of the apartments DOI inspectors witnessed roaches crawling on the walls, fly traps completely covered with flies, chipped paint throughout the units, and holes in the corners and under the sinks, allowing rats and mice access.
At a Bronx building, "DOI observed a dead rat in an apartment. It was reported that it had been dead for two days and, indeed, DOI inspectors found that the decaying smell permeated into the hallway outside of the apartment. The client told DOI that he informed the superintendent, but that the super had not removed it. Four children resided in that apartment."
At another cluster shelter in the Bronx, "Although her apartment has multiple rooms, the client stated that the family did not sleep in one of the bedrooms because it was roach-infested, and added that the roaches lived in the doorframes in the unit as well."
Security at these buildings is barely existent—one guard admitted that the surveillance camera only captured part of a hallway, leaving one area where people hide.
The DOI was also troubled by how much DHS is paying: For instance, at one rundown shelter, " Brooklyn Acacia’s contract rate, which includes both rent and social services, was $104.17 per family per night ($3,125 monthly)The average rent for buildings in the same neighborhood as the five clusters reveals rents of $528, $725, $858, $950, and $1200 a month. Based on this comparison, the City is paying two to three times market rate for these substandard living conditions." At a hotel shelter, "According to DHS the average rate per night per family for the hotel is $94.70 ($2,841 monthly). The City is paying this amount for families of up to four people to live in one room with a bathroom and kitchenette. "
The Department of Homeless Services has agreed to changes, like bringing non-contracted shelters to contract and making providers accountable for delivering social services and maintaining facilities. The DHS also says it's looking to move families into permanent housing; better security at cluster sites; and inspecting sites more often.