Today’s Read: Review of NYC Family Shelter System Finds Hundreds of Violations

A report released on Thursday by the NYC Department of Investigation finds that conditions in the City’s family shelter system are truly deplorable and in need of immediate attention. The yearlong review, conducted at the request of Mayor Bill de Blasio, uncovered a total of 621 health and safety violations at a sampling of 25 shelters and cluster sites. With disturbing descriptions of dead rats, broken beds and puddles of urine, the report paints a grim picture of a system that houses more than 25,000 children.

The worst conditions were found in the City’s “cluster site” units, which temporarily house about 3,000 families in private buildings. This is no surprise to the Coalition, which has been working closely with these families and campaigning for years for the City to end this practice – so harmful to families and wasteful of taxpayer dollars.

The grisly DOI report was widely covered in the press. Winnie Hu detailed the findings for The New York Times:

“D.O.I. has found that the family shelters it inspected and reviewed are too often unsafe and unhealthy for children and families,” the report stated, “and that the family shelter system is in need of aggressive, immediate, as well as long-term reform efforts.”

The report emphasized that the problems were not new, and were a product of decades of neglect. It also noted that the Homeless Services Department had already taken steps to address some of the concerns raised by the investigation.

Responding to the findings, Gilbert Taylor, commissioner of homeless services, said in an interview on Thursday that the report had in fact highlighted many of the same problems his department had found in its own inspections of the shelter system over the past year.

Mr. Taylor, who was appointed commissioner in January 2014, said the homeless services agency had closed two shelters in the Bronx that were cited in the report, and had made other changes as well, including placing more families in shelters instead of cluster sites, and providing additional resources to families with a young child considered at high risk of abuse or neglect.

“We’re not going to tolerate substandard conditions for any of our residents,” Mr. Taylor said, adding that his department had worked closely with the Investigation Department.

In response to the report, the Coalition released the following statement from President and CEO Mary Brosnahan:

“These findings are deeply disturbing and reveal how much further New York City must go to provide decent shelter for our homeless neighbors in crisis. These horrendous conditions may have been years in the making, but they clearly demand an urgent and comprehensive response from the City.

“The City has a legal and moral obligation to provide these families – mostly women and children – with shelters that are at minimum clean and safe, and we are heartened that DOI has provided a roadmap for improving conditions at these shelters. Given that the most hazardous violations exist in so-called cluster-site shelters, the report provides more ammunition for the City to accelerate steps already taken by the de Blasio administration to phase out that disastrous Bloomberg-era program. Put simply, the most efficient and cost-effective way to stop the insane reliance on dangerous cluster-site housing is for the mayor to increase the availability of NYCHA apartments to more rapidly move families with young children out of these hell holes and into stability.”