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Local News July 24, 2014  RSS feed

DHS TOLD TO AMEND WAYS

Comptroller Hasn’t Decided On Shelters
by Robert Pozarycki

Charging thatthe current playbook for dealing with homelessness in the five boroughs is failing,” City Comptroller Scott Stringer scolded the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) for placing emergency shelters in communities with little advanced notice.

In a letter sent last Thursday, July 17, to DHS Commissioner Gilbert Taylor, Stringer stated his office is concerned with the DHS’ “emergency contracting approach ... to site new facilities in neighborhoods with minimal community consultation.”

“Time and time again, I have seen communities that were traditionally welcoming of shelter facilities and supportive housing react negatively to a rushed DHS placement due to a failure to consider either legitimate potential neighborhood impacts or the health of the families the residences are intended to support,” Stringer wrote to Taylor.

In June, the DHS began housing homeless persons at the former Pan American Hotel in Elmhurst, drawing the ire of civic groups and elected officials who claimed the agency only notified them of the situation the day the move took place. The move came after DHS Assistant Commissioner Lisa Black, during a Community Board 5 public hearing on a proposed homeless shelter at 78-16 Cooper Ave. in Glendale, claimed the agency deemed the PanAmerican unsuitable for a shelter.

Sources familiar with the Comptroller’s office told the Times Newsweekly the DHS housed homeless persons at the Pan American through an emergency contract the comptroller’s office approved.

Samaritan Village, the nonprofit group backing the proposed Glendale homeless shelter for up to 125 families, also submitted plans to the DHS to permanently convert the Pan American into a homeless shelter serving more than 200 families. Both plans were in response to an open-ended DHS request for homeless shelter proposals.

According to sources, the Comptroller’s office has not received any DHS contracts for either the Glendale shelter—which, since it requires renovation, cannot be used as an emergency shelter—or to permanently establish the former Pan American as a homeless shelter.

City contracts undergo an extensive review process through several different agencies— including the Law Department, the City Office of Contracts and the Office of Management and Budget—before reaching the Comptroller’s office.

Given the extensive review process, it could take months or years before either contract reaches the Comptroller’s office, a source familiar with the office’s operations told the Times Newsweekly on Tuesday, July 22.

Furthermore, the source stated, the comptroller has the authority to approve or, for a variety of reasons, reject any city contract following a review. At Board 5’s July meeting, as previously reported, Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi told residents the comptroller could only reject a contract “if the numbers do not add up.”

Meanwhile, Stringer called for the DHS to begin mending fences in communities affected by homeless shelters already in operation—or soon to open—“by creating a robust consultative process with community stakeholders” and allowing “for meaningful input from local stakeholders, advisory groups and elected officials.”

“Most importantly, DHS must clearly delineate for the public what its consultative process will entail, with transparent and dependable timelines, so that communities and stakeholders are no longer notified of new sites at the 11th hour,” Stringer added in his letter. “If DHS continues to neglect communities until after emergency contracting decisions have been made, it will neither benefit from local knowledge of the area, nor engender harmonious integration with the surrounding communities.”

Stringer further suggested “a larger five-borough solution” that includes ways “to reduce the total number of individuals in need of transitional housing and metrics to judge the plan as it progresses.” According to his letter, approximately 54,439 people—43 percent of whom were children— were living in city shelters as of last Tuesday, July 15.

“Only with such a plan can we begin to delineate the difference between a true emergency situation and a persistent failure to solve an ongoing, decades-long problem,” he added, going on to note, “given the magnitude of this crisis for both those in need of housing and the local communities that feel ignored, I do not believe we can wait to have this conversation.”

Days before Stringer wrote to Taylor, Community Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano wrote to Stringer and forwarded the board’s concerns over the Glendale shelter contract and the location itself. A long unused factory situated adjacent to the Independent Chemical Corporation, critics of the proposal claim the site may be contaminated; a DHS environmental study concluded the location was safe.

“We believe that no one, especially children, should be housed in such a potentially dangerous environment,” Giordano told Stringer in his July 11 letter.

The district manager further questioned the DHS contract with Samaritan Village, in which the city would pay the nonprofit group more than $27 million over five years for the shelter’s operation.

“Considering that the contract, if approved, would include an estimated 10 month period for building cleanup and renovation, the contract cost is overly expensive,” Giordano stated. “To our knowledge, the Department of Homeless Services standard reimbursement to the sponsoring organization is $120 per day for each family. Therefore, the cost of housing each family at this very questionable location for the period (1,520 days) when they would be living there is $182,400.”

“The contract is to house 125 families at this location,” he continued. “The total cost for this contract should be $22,800,000, not $27,543,216. This is a difference of more than $4.7 million.”