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Mayor unveils ‘SWAT Teams’ to address homeless shelter code violations

By Tom Momberg

Mayor Bill de Blasio made an appearance in Queens Monday to announce the creation of SWAT Teams to address critical repairs needed in city-funded homeless shelters. The announcement follows a Department of Inspection report that entailed hundreds of code violations at several shelters this spring.

The SWAT Teams will be comprised of hundreds of existing city employees from the New York Fire Department, the Department of Buildings, the Department of Homeless Services, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and the Department of Health to identify and examine additional violations and order repair work as needed.

The SWAT project was included in the $100 million budget boost to homeless services outlined in the 2016 Executive Budget deBlasio released last week.

“These SWAT Teams are necessary, because we are not dealing with a problem that just started in the last year or two. We are dealing with a problem that is decades old and has gotten worse for several reasons,” de Blasio said at a press conference at the Corona Family Residence, a homeless shelter in Queens.

Some of the issues identified in DOI’s inspection of 25 shelters citywide, which de Blasio ordered, included safety and security as well as poor conditions and rodent or pest infestations. The DOI found 600 code violations among the shelters inspected, including six in Queens.

Most of those violations have since been addressed, but de Blasio and DHS Commissioner Gilbert Taylor said this new initiative will address violations for all of DHS’s hundreds of housing providers and work with staff to ensure poor conditions do not reoccur.

The DOH overhauled its shelter inspection protocols,based on the issues found in the DOI report. Taylor said the SWAT Teams will work with shelter staffs to recognize potential violations and prevent another backlog of poor conditions in the future.

“Within this engagement, every [shelter] provider will be informed simultaneously with us, understanding what the issues are, that there are issues and they will be required to correct the issues,” Commissioner Taylor said.

The SWAT Teams are projected to repair any and all violations at each site by the end of the calendar year. The mayor said he expects the plan to unfold by the end of the month. At the same time, the city plans to initiate a public online tracking system to keep tabs on progress via the city’s website. Homeless shelters with fewer or less-severe code violations will only take about a week to repair.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who experienced homelessness in his youth, said it is important that homeless shelters offer a certain standard of living in order to give people dignity and a real chance of improving their situations. He applauded de Blasio for his efforts to turn around the system.

“Every family that comes to a shelter is in a state of crisis in one way or another. The fact that they have found shelter means they are on a path to recovery… but when you get to that shelter, it should be a place where any New Yorker could live because it’s about dignity. It’s about knowing that you matter,” Van Bramer said.

Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomberg@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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