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Editorial: City sees the light on homelessness

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The Department of Homeless Services (DHS) spent city tax dollars– your tax dollars– to allow homeless people to live in filthy, cramped and insecure shelters.

That’s the essence of an audit that City Comptroller Scott Stringer released on Monday which found that the DHS failed to provide proper oversight at emergency shelters across the city where some 12,500 homeless families reside.

The first step toward solving any problem is recognizing that there is one. Finally, within the last few days, the city not only acknowledged that it has a homeless problem, but that the agency responsible for fixing it has only exacerbated the plight of the homeless rather than help rebuild their lives.

First, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that his administration would examine and overhaul the DHS following the resignation of its commissioner, Gilbert Taylor. Days later, the administration unveiled “Home-Stat,” a service in which city officials will engage with homeless New Yorkers and help connect them to permanent housing and social services.

Stringer’s audit revealed what many homeless advocates feared: that the shelters where many homeless families were sent to reside were simply unfit for residence. The problems included violations typically committed by slumlords; 53 percent of shelter apartments were vermin infested, and 87 percent of units had serious health and safety concerns such as mold, mildew, peeling paint, even broken smoke detectors.

Again, this was allowed to happen on the department’s watch, which Stringer’s report also noted was inadequately staffed to properly inspect and oversee these shelters. Many of these shelters are privately owned and operated, but subsidized by the city with your taxpayer dollars.

To call it disgraceful would be a gigantic understatement. This is a shame which we all share as New Yorkers because this government acted on our behalf to treat homeless families like second-class citizens.

We believe the city is finally moving in the right direction after this last week of startling revelations and calls for reform. The city must advance this renewed mission to treat its homeless with dignity, shelter them in proper conditions and provide them with the resources they need to get back on their feet and live productive and independent lives.

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