After years of alleged wrongdoing, Queens City Councilman Robert Holden has called on the city to thoroughly investigate the Cooper Rapid Rehousing Center over breach of contract claims.
The homeless shelter, located at 78-16 Cooper Ave. in Glendale, is owned by Westhab, a private organization contracted by the Department of Homeless Services (DHS). According to Holden, the Cooper Avenue shelter must provide employment services, broker outreach and life skills programming, but has not followed through.
The shelter opened in February 2020 and only operates at half capacity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, a staggering 71 arrests and 853 911 calls have been made at the shelter’s location, according to the lawmaker.
Holden sent a letter to New York City Comptroller Brad Lander on Wednesday, Jan. 12, asking him to audit the shelter.
“DHS, the city, the Bill de Blasio administration has broken almost every promise,” Holden said. “They said this would be an employment shelter, and it’s not. It puts a lot of stress on the limited resources of the 104th Precinct.”
Holden has openly criticized former DHS commissioner Steven Banks for corruption and poor oversight of his agency. Banks has come under fire after multiple reports revealing the city’s fumbled contract with a nonprofit that allowed the company to profit extensively from the transaction. According to reports from the New York Post, over $4 billion in city funds has gone to scandalous shelter operators.
Holden attempted to get data on how many men were living in the shelter, along with other indicators on how the facility was functioning. However, Holden claimed he was stonewalled and unable to receive any information.
“DHS has illegally kept information from [me],” Holden said. “They’re not transparent. I can’t get this information; that means they’re covering things up. They’re covering up how incompetent and how poorly run DHS is. Steve Banks should be investigated.”
Holden said it is upsetting to know that homeless shelters like the Cooper Avenue facility are so mismanaged that people would rather stay on the streets.
Victor Lopez, who stayed at Harry’s Place shelter in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn and spoke to QNS about his desire to stay at the Hungry Monk shelter in Ridgewood, said that he would instead take his chances on the street rather than stay in a city-run homeless shelter. The 59-year-old said he never felt safe in Harry’s Place shelter.
“It’s terrible,” Lopez said. “It’s crazy in there. Why would they put me in a shelter like that? I didn’t give anyone any trouble. I’m out here trying to get better and get help, not to fight with people.”
Holden pledged that even if it takes filing a lawsuit against DHS, he will get the information he is seeking.
QNS reached out to DHS for comment, but did not receive a response by publication time.