Tag Archives: homeless shelters

City to deploy ‘shelter repair squad’ to fix homeless shelter issues


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

Five city agencies are coming together to investigate and solve the issues faced at over 500 homeless shelters throughout the city.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday that the city will deploying hundreds of “special SWAT teams” — made up of employees from the FDNY, Department of Buildings, Department of Homeless Services, Department of Health and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development — to accelerate the process of repairs at homeless shelters all over New York City.

“These SWAT teams are necessary because we aren’t dealing with a problem that just started in the last year or two, we’re dealing with a problem that is decades old and has gotten worse for several reasons,” de Blasio said. “This city has seen a homelessness crisis that in the last decade went from a very troubling level to an absolutely unacceptable level.”

According to the mayor, 56,000 people are currently living in shelters, and although that number is down from 59,000 people a few months ago, there is still much more to be done.

The implementation of the inter-agency shelter repair squad comes after de Blasio received a report from the Department of Investigation two months ago that put forth the unhealthy conditions at the city shelters. The DOI found 25 shelters that required immediate attention, and those have since had almost all violations addressed.

One of those shelters included the Corona Family Residence, where de Blasio made the announcement Monday afternoon. This facility had violations such as smoke detector problems and rodent infestations.

The squads will go out to individual shelters, identify the problems and solutions to them, then reach out to various departments and agencies that could find the resources to correct the conditions. Typical violations — such as broken or missing smoke detectors — will be expected to be fixed within a seven-day period after being identified. Some of the more complicated capital repairs will begin in about 30 days with a plan of completion within the calendar year.

Along with the squad, there will also be an accountability system put into place where members of the public will be able to track the city’s progress through online scorecards.

“Every effort is being made to reduce the number of health and safety violations within DHS shelters, and the creation of the shelter repair squad will provide immeasurable support to us in these efforts,” DHS Commissioner Gilbert Taylor said. “This engagement is truly reflective of our city’s collective responsibility, serving our most vulnerable New Yorkers. These measures will indeed help DHS to overcome the many years of neglect that our city shelter system has been subjected to.”

Last week, de Blasio also announced that in the city’s 2016 $78.3 billion budget $100 million will go toward homeless prevention and assistance, including rental support, anti-eviction and legal services, and more. The budget will also include $4.7 million to expand the number of shelter beds for runaway and homeless youth by another 100, while enhancing mental health services.

For Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who attended the Monday announcement, the issues residents have to live with at these homeless shelters hit close to his heart because his family once lived in a shelter. Van Bramer said that many of the issues the families are facing are the same as those his family faced years ago.

“Every family that comes to [a] shelter is in a state of crisis in one way or another, but the fact that they found shelter means that they are on the path to recovery, like my family. So going to [a] shelter is the first step, in many cases, to making it out of [the] shelter,” Van Bramer said. “But when you get to that shelter, it should be a place where any New Yorker could live because it’s about dignity and it’s about knowing that you matter, your lives matter, your children matter.”

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State lawmakers’ report finds sex offenders living in family shelters


| slicata@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Salvatore Licata

About 10 sex offenders are currently residing in family homeless shelters across New York City, including three in Queens shelters, according to a new report by members of the state Senate.

The report comes on the heels of the discovery this week of another sex offender who was living in the Westway family shelter in East Elmhurst. He was moved out of the facility quickly on Thursday after local officials and residents complained to the city.

“Clearly these miscreants who have harmed children should never be allowed into family shelters. The city must protect our most vulnerable by ensuring shelters are safe and not create more horrifying and stressful situations when families are trying to reshape their lives,” said state Senator Leroy Comrie during a press conference Friday outside the Lincoln Atlantic homeless shelter for families at 90-35 Van Wyck Expy.

Comrie joined state Sen. Jeff Klein of the Bronx, who conducted the report detailing instances of sex offenders being housed in family shelters over the past seven years. Klein proposed legislation passed by the Senate to bar such placements.

Comrie, Klein and state Sen. James Sanders called on the state Assembly on Friday to pass similar legislation.

City officials have already proposed changes to prevent the future placement of level 2 or 3 sex offenders in shelters housing families with children and, instead, divert them to the single adult shelter system.

“DHS takes safety concerns in its shelters very seriously and, within its legal obligation to provide shelter to anyone in need, is moving forward with proposed policy changes regarding sex offenders in shelters housing families with children.”

If the bill is passed in the Assembly and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, it would prohibit level 2 and level 3 sex offenders from being housed in family shelters and would require, by law, that they be placed in adults-only shelters or shelters without children.

Klein said the city could face cuts in state funding for homeless services if it did not comply with the legislation, should it be passed by the Assembly and signed by the governor.

Along with the Lincoln Atlantic shelter in Queens, the other two family homeless shelters that house a sexual predator according to the Senate report, are Park Family Residence and Belt Park Family Center, both in Jamaica.

If the bill is passed in the Assembly and signed by Cuomo, it would prohibit level 2 and level 3 sex offenders from being housed in family shelters and would require, by law, that they be placed in adults-only shelters or shelters without children.

Klein said the city could face cuts in state funding for homeless services if it did not comply with the legislation, should it be passed by the Assembly and signed by the governor.

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New bill being proposed for more community input in homeless shelter locations


| slicata@queenscourier.com

File photos

Proposals to open shelters for the homeless would have to go through a city review process including community input under a bill that will be introduced in the state Senate.

The bill, which will be introduced next session, calls for the New York City Planning Commission to work with the local community before plans for a new shelter location are finalized. The bill was sponsored by state Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) and has the support of state Sen. Joe Addabbo.

“Our efforts against the proposed homeless shelter in Glendale has been a long endeavor, and at times it seems we are fighting an impossible battle,” Addabbo said. “I want us all to have a fair opportunity to voice concerns when it comes to what is being put into their backyards and affecting our quality of life in both the long and short term.”

If passed, the new legislation will demand a homeless shelter’s operator to file notice with the NYC Planning Commission and the local community board before they go ahead and use a proposed spot. Once filed, the commission would host a community forum, followed by a 60- to 90-day review period.

Following the review period, the NYC Planning Commission will either approve, modify or deny the location, or suggest an alternative site. These requirements will also, by law, stand for an existing shelter whenever a lease with the property owner is renewed or extended.

Sal Crifasi, president of the Glendale/Middle Village Coalition, a group that is fighting the proposed Glendale homeless shelter on Cooper Avenue, said he was happy his local elected officials were finally taking action against the warehousing of homeless people, but he is not completely convinced the new law will be enacted.

“Finally there is some transparency between the government and the community,” said Crifasi. “But I have to see [the law] get passed first.”

Addabbo said he believes the community should always have the biggest voice when it comes to issues like this.

“These guidelines require, they enforce, community involvement. This should have been rule number one from the start, but it is my hope this legislation becomes law and we can correct the wrongs of the past and make decisions more efficiently going forward,” Addabbo said. “If city agencies can work with residents at the local level, we can restore trust that may have been lost this past year.”

If the bill is approved in the Republican-controlled state Senate, it would still need approval in the Democratic-controlled Assembly before going on to Gov. Cuomo for his signature.

The city is under enormous pressure to provide emergency shelter for a record number of homeless. This week, the city reported 59,246 people in shelters, about half of whom are children. In December 2000, the city sheltered 23,235 homeless per night.

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Real estate roundup: New homeless shelters here to stay, huge development planned over LIC family cemetery


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Salvatore Licata

Pan Am and Westway Set to Become Permanent Homeless Shelters, City Says

“At least two emergency homeless shelters that opened this year in Queens, including the controversial site at the former Pan Am Hotel, will become permanent facilities, officials said.” Read more [DNAinfo]

Long in Repose, Last Remnants of a Founding Family Will Leave Long Island City

“More people are buried in Queens than are living there now. This is a story of some of the departed. Precisely how many will not be known, though, until a bulldozer breaks ground early next year for a 42-story apartment tower in Long Island City, on the site of what was once a cemetery, owned by a family that settled there 350 years ago.” Read more [The New York Times]

The Sandwich Bar is spreading out onto 33rd Street– adding 24 seats

“The Sandwich Bar is likely to be getting a whole lot bigger. Alex Valavanis, owner of the 33-01 Ditmars Blvd establishment, recently went before Community Board 1 and was approved for an enclosed sidewalk café.” Read more [Astoria Post]

 

Real estate roundup: More homeless shelters to Queens, borough’s dining scene thriving


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

City Plans Second Homeless Shelter in Rockaway, Local Pol Says

“Another homeless shelter will open in the next few weeks in Rockaway, the second to open on the peninsula this year, according to an elected official and the local community board.” Read more [DNAinfo]

Wanted: Gentrifiers for huge Long Island City warehouse

“Investors in a far-flung corner of industrial Long Island City are looking for a way to transform a 300,000-square-foot development site into a property that will raise its neighbors’ values.” Read more [The Real Deal]

The dining scene turning Queens into the new Brooklyn

“Brooklyn, once an affordable refuge for restaurateurs and diners creating and seeking culinary adventures, is losing its down-home charm. And Queens, long known for its cheap ethnic eats, is filling the gap. For the first time ever, four of its restaurants have won a coveted Michelin star, and there are plenty more contenders.” Read more [New York Post]

Bill would disperse homeless shelters evenly throughout each borough


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Queens shelters may soon be finding new homes.

Councilmembers Ruben Wills and Leroy Comrie started work in 2011 on a bill that would disperse homeless shelters evenly throughout each borough. Wills said research revealed that Community Board (CB) 12 contains 10 of the 18 shelters in all of Queens. CB 12 includes Jamaica, Hollis, St. Albans, Springfield Gardens, Baisley Park, Rochdale Village and South Jamaica.

“The DHS [Department of Homeless Services] is clustering all of these shelters,” Wills said. “All of these undesirable land uses are in certain community boards. We perceived that to be a huge problem.”

Under the bill, Wills and Comrie proposed limiting the number of shelters in any community board to one-third of the borough’s total.

Wills said placing shelters in one specific type of community, such as CB 12, is not in response to any increase in the homeless population.

“It is not fair that southeast Queens has the majority of homeless shelters in the borough,” Comrie said.

For the existing shelters, Wills suggested they make relocation plans so they and their residents are prepared to move when any site’s lease expires. He said it was important to put shelters in areas with convenient transportation.

The council pair proposed an additional bill under which the DHS would determine whether any shelter resident is a sex offender. If so, the department would notify the local community board, councilmember and police precinct. The department would also conduct mental health and criminal background assessments on all adults entering shelters. If passed, the bill will go into effect on January 1, 2014.

 

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The truth about shelters


| letters@queenscourier.com

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a statement of the Hunger Action Network of New York State on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s contention that families stay in shelters longer because they find them pleasurable.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recent statement that families are staying in homeless shelters longer because they find it pleasurable is the latest example of the delusional nature of his administration when it comes to poverty.

While Bloomberg may have done a good job in improving the quality of life for wealthy New Yorkers, he has failed to improve the situation for many poor and working New Yorkers. Like many rich individuals, especially white male politicians, he has no comprehension of the realities that low-income New Yorkers experience, particularly in a city with one of the highest costs of living in the world.

Under Bloomberg, the city’s welfare safety net is a nightmarish Kafkaesque experience, with an unresponsive bureaucracy forcing poor families in emergency situations to drown in a sea of paperwork and red tape and delay while Bloomberg and his senior staff cite statistics to show that everything is great.

Families are forced to stay in shelters because the Bloomberg administration has failed to provide access to affordable housing.

This situation is especially dire for the lowest-income New Yorkers. As documented by the Coalition for the Homeless, “In March 2011, the Bloomberg administration terminated the Advantage rental subsidy program for homeless families in the shelter system and has, to date, refused to replace it with federal housing programs used successfully in the past by previous mayors. Indeed, for the first time since modern homelessness began, there is no housing assistance in place to help homeless families move from shelter to permanent housing.”

The shelter allowance provided by the city’s welfare system is far below the actual cost of housing. The choice is often between living in unsafe housing in unsafe neighborhoods or homelessness.

Similar situations exist in the city’s public assistance programs operated by the Human Resources Administration (HRA).

The federal government consistently ranked New York about the worst in the country in terms of moving people from welfare to work. A major problem is that NYS and HRA, unlike other states, relies heavily on forced make work (workfare), even though every academic and government study over the last three decades has concluded that workfare, while very expensive, is ineffective in helping to make people employable, especially those with multiple barriers to employment.

HRA also publicly contends that there is a robust job market for low-income New Yorkers, and in fact only Wall Street types are facing a bad job situation. Yet New York City’s unemployment rate climbed to 10 percent in June, equaling the highest level it reached during the recession; it hasn’t been higher in 19 years.

The situation is even worse for minorities.

The Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) points out (State of Working New Yorkers) that last year’s minor drop in the city’s “official unemployment rate” is largely from no longer counting “discouraged workers” who have been not been able to find a job. For instance, New York City’s July 2011 unemployment rate would have been 10.1 percent rather than 8.7 percent. Household employment according to the Current Population Survey—distinct from payroll employment based on the monthly survey of employers)—has actually fallen in New York City during the first 18 months of the recovery.