City Doles Out Millions for Shoddy Shelters – QNS.com

City Doles Out Millions for Shoddy Shelters

With $2,400 a month to spend, someone looking for an apartment in Queens can expect to rent a luxurious three-bedroom suite in Douglaston, Bay Terrace or Forest Hills, with a fully-appointed kitchen, a 24-hour doorman and a health club and pool in the basement.
If, however, youre homeless and the City of New York is footing the $2,400-a-month rental bill, expect to sleep in one cramped room along with your children. Your apartment could very likely have holes in the walls, chipped paint and leaky pipes in the bathroom, exposed radiators and torn mattresses on the beds. You and your children will be greeted by one or more security guards in the lobby, wholl make you pass through a metal detector before you enter. Youll be allowed guests for just four hours a day and only in the presence of a security guard.
Those are the amenities that former College Point resident Linda Allen and her six children discovered when they were sent to the Jamaica Assessment Center, a family shelter at 175-10 88 Ave.
"Its hell in there," said Allen, her eyes welling up with tears. "You have roaches climbing all over the place, the toilets overflow all the time, the sockets spark when you plug something in and there are no pillows or sheets on the beds."
Asked to comment on her apartments $2,400 price tag, Allen responded, "Im speechless. If I didnt have my children to think of, Id much rather live on the streets."
But by New York City standards, her apartment is a bargain. Department of Homeless Services officials admit that the City spends an average of $3,000 a month for each of the more than 6,000 apartments in which homeless families reside.
That adds up to a staggering $216 million dollars that the City spends each year to house homeless familiesa rate of $36,000 per family, far beyond what many Queens families spend on housing.
Even with federal and state subsidies picking up the lions share of the rental costs, New Yorks 25 percent cut adds up to an annual $54 million in tax levy money.
Homeless advocates say the expenditure is a disgrace.
"Its absolutely scandalous, particularly in this time of budget constraints, to be spending this exorbitant amount of taxpayer money on these temporary shelters," said Mary Brosnahan Sullivan, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless. "A much more wise investment would be to take one-quarter of that money and build permanent apartments. That would help ensure the stability of homeless families and stem their tide of misery."
While they admit that New York City does have a housing shortage, homeless officials insist the City does a better job of sheltering its homeless than "any other City in the country."
"Building more housing is great, but what should we do when hundreds of people come to us needing a place to stay for the night?" said Robert Mascali, first deputy commissioner of the DHS. "In other American cities, homeless people are put on waiting lists to get temporary shelter. Here that doesnt happen."
Mascali said that his office has had a difficult time finding landlords willing to accept the so-called Section 8 rent subsidies, despite his agencys doubling of the bonus it gives landlords to sign up for the program.
Since Mayor Rudolph Giuliani took office, the City has spent an average of about $320 million a year on housing, compared to $630 million a year during the Dinkins administration. Both figures are a far cry from the $1.06 billion former Mayor Ed Koch spent on housing in his last year in office.
Homeless advocates and other housing experts say this lack of affordable housing is the main reason that the number of homeless families has grown dramatically in the past few years.
As of October, there were 29,498 homeless people in the City, including 21,567 children and their parents, according to the DHS. The number of homeless families has increased by 1,000 since last July alone.
In Queens, the number of families in shelters has jumped 35 percent since September 1998, from 666 families to 902. Family shelters and hotels in the borough have increased 33 percent during that time.
With no permanent place to send these families, they are often shuffled back and forth between the Emergency Assistance Unit (EAU)a clearing house for homeless families in the Bronxand temporary shelters throughout the five boroughs.
In interviews with more than 100 homeless families over a two-month period, mothers and children said that the EAU and the shelters they are sent to are often dirty and infested with insects and rodents. They also complained that they are poorly treated by staff at the facilities.
In one of the most disturbing findings, The Queens Courier discovered that infants and young children at the EAU were being given canned milk with expiration dates that were more than a month old.
Other shelter residents also complained about unsafe food.
"My son bit into an orange and there was a roach embedded in it," said Anthony Jackson, who, along with his wife Sandral and his children, is being housed at the Jamaica Assessment Center. "I mentioned it to the social worker in the building three weeks ago and havent heard a thing about it since."
Homeless advocates say the only solution is building more permanent housing.
"Would we [NYC] feel better if we were only spending $50 a night for these substandard apartments instead of $100?" asked Steven Banks, deputy attorney for the Legal Aid Society. "This is a case where the more humane solution is also the more cost effective solution."

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