Queens councilman demands investigation into DHS, claiming agency lied about moving homeless into hotels

Councilman Robert Holden (QNS file photo by Max Parrott)

Councilman Robert Holden is fed up. After several years of battling with the city’s Department of Homeless Services, Holden is calling for an investigation into the agency’s “lies” about relocating residents of the Cooper Rapid Rehousing Center in Glendale.

Holden, on June 17, urged the city’s Department of Investigation to open a probe into the DHS, claiming that the agency lied regarding housing the homeless in hotel rooms during the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to stop the spread of the virus inside large shelters.

Holden called for the investigation after learning from a DHS official that the department actually increased the number of residents inside the shelter at 78-16 Cooper Ave., from 120 to 200 after claiming that all residents would be removed during the pandemic. The department then removed 100 residents shortly thereafter, and the remaining 100 residents will stay at the shelter where DHS now claims that they can be properly distanced. The Department of Social Services oversees the DHS.

Holden noted that the DSS Commissioner Steven Banks’ “cavalier approach” to social distancing guidelines in shelters is also endangering the lives of residents in the surrounding communities. Holden’s office has continued to field numerous complaints about shelter residents gathering outside without masks, panhandling outside the shelter gates, injecting drugs and assaulting other shelter residents.

Glendale residents complain that shelter residents gather outside without wearing masks. (Courtesy of Holden’s office)

“Once again Commissioner Steven Banks is misleading communities with no regard for the health and wellbeing of his homeless clients or community residents as a viral pandemic has swept through his oversized and overcrowded shelters,” Holden said. “Rather than staying true to his word and moving shelter residents to hotels where they can safely keep their distance from others, the DHS would rather shuffle them to and from warehouse shelters and risk their lives in the process for no apparent reason. The continued lies and absence of transparency from Banks and his agency is maddening, and I trust that the Department of Investigation will look into this negligence immediately.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Investigation said, “DOI has received a letter from Councilman Holden on this matter and declines further comment.”  DHS could neither confirm nor deny specific locations due to the NYS Social Services Law.

“We’re confident that our strategies for combating COVID-19 and protecting the 60,000-plus New Yorkers we serve on any given night have effectively flattened our curve, which has closely tracked citywide trends.” Department of Social Services spokesman Isaac McGinn said. “From working closely with DOH and H+H to provide anyone who needs it with care or isolation to proactively relocating our most vulnerable clients, including seniors and single adults from larger congregate shelters, our strategies are working and saving lives.”

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