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.”