Homeless Services reviews vetting standards after criminal activity found

Homeless Services reviews vetting standards after criminal activity found
Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks.
Photo by Michael Shain
By Gina Martinez

A report by the NYC Department of Investigation reveals that homeless families in the city have been housed in hotels where criminal activity, including prostitution, has been taking place.

The DOI report, released last week, has led the Department of Homeless Services to re-evaluate its vetting process for places where homeless families are sheltered. Homeless Services, according to the report, did not consider criminal activity before placing families with children in certain hotels.

Last year, protests broke out in Queens after families were housed in various borough hotels.

The investigation released last week found that from Jan. 1, to Aug. 10, arrests took place at 34 of the city’s 57 commercial hotels housing homeless families with children. Among the arrests, 59 were prostitution-related, 34 were assault-related and 11 were made for controlled substances. The DOI said that the existence of red flags at these sites does not call for a closing but does “demonstrate a need for DHS to perform safety assessments.”

The DOI’s investigation found that simple internet searches of the Bronx Days Inn and Bronx Super 8 Hotel addresses with key words such as “escort” would result in several links to websites promoting prostitution. DOI Commissioner Mark G. Peters said the department was pleased that DHS has recognized these concerns and is working with DOI to put measures in place to solve these problems.

Homeless Services Commissioner Steven Banks said the safety of homeless New Yorkers is his top priority and thanked the DOI for shedding light on these issues.

“Upon being notified of safety concerns requiring immediate action, we took immediate action, relocating families or occupying locations entirely, as the DOI recommends and recognizes in this report,” he said. “We are working closely with our NYPD management team to evaluate remaining as well as new locations to ensure the safety of our homeless families as we phase out the use of commercial hotels once and for all.”

DHS has agreed to the DOI’s recommendation to enhance its approval criteria for housing families with children to include a public safety component that will identify possible criminal activities occurring at prospective hotels. Whenever possible, Homeless Services will reserve an entire hotel, rather than a portion, to eliminate the possibility of DHS clients sharing locations with criminal behavior.

Using hotels as temporary housing for homeless families has been a center of controversy for Mayor Bill de Blasio. While none of the shelters listed in the report were in Queens, the borough currently has 40 shelters, more than any in the city.

Last year, major protest erupted after the mayor had housed families in various Queens hotels, most notably a Maspeth Holiday Inn, without informing the community. That August, Councilman Bob Holden (D-Middle Village), then the president of the powerful Juniper Park Civic Association and a member of the Maspeth-Middle Village Task Force, led a much-publicized protest every weeknight for nearly four months, prompting the landowner to step in and forbid a shelter at the hotel.

Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmartinez@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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