File photo/QNS
A protest outside the Holiday Inn Express in Maspeth in 2016, one of 24 hotels in Queens where homeless people now reside.

The Department of Homeless Services (DHS) didn’t properly screen hotels across the city for criminal activities before housing homeless families with children there, according to a Department of Investigation (DOI) report released Thursday.

While the report cited no specific wrongdoings in Queens, the investigation encompassed all 57 of the city’s commercial hotels that housed homeless families with children from January through August of 2017. Queens has 24 such hotels, more than any other borough, and there were 40 total arrests made at the hotels during the investigation period.

Prostitution accounted for 24 of the arrests, 12 were for assault, and four were drug-related.

“This is reprehensible, but not surprising when you’re talking about the DHS and the homeless situation,” said Councilman Robert Holden of the 30th District. “It sounds like the city is so desperate that they won’t even look at that. When you have children in there, that’s disgraceful on so many levels.”

Holden, who marched with Maspeth residents to oppose the proposed conversion of a local Holiday Inn Express into a shelter in 2016, added that this reaffirms his belief that hotels are not the solution. As Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last February, the city plans to completely phase out the use of commercial hotels as homeless shelter by 2023.

According to the report, the DHS has agreed to implement the DOI’s recommendations to include a public safety component that will identify possible criminal activity when reviewing prospective hotels, and to have homeless families with children occupy entire hotels or withdraw them from hotels entirely.

The DOI report detailed two specific hotels in the Bronx where investigators identified suspicious booking patterns.

At a Days Inn in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, the DOI found at least 12 individuals who purchased at least 11 nights over several weeks or months, the report states. One individual purchased a total of 77 nights, and another purchased 23 nights all in cash. This is typical of prostitution promoters, who use all cash transactions at hotels to keep their workers and themselves anonymous.

After conducting interviews with many homeless clients in the Days Inn, one client told the DOI that she observed women dressed in lingerie walking in the hallway and leading men into various rooms, the report states. The same woman also told investigators that she was approached by a man who said he knew she was homeless and offered her work as a prostitute to supplement her income.

At a Super 8 Hotel in Crotona Park, seven individuals purchased at least 15 nights, and one individual purchased 53 nights over the eight-month period all in cash.

“The safety of homeless New Yorkers is our top priority. We share DOI’s concerns and thank them for shedding light on this issue,” said Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks in a statement. “Upon being notified of safety concerns requiring immediate action, we took immediate action, relocating families or occupying locations entirely, as DOI recommends and recognizes in this report.”

A DHS spokesperson emphasized to QNS that the two Bronx hotels in the report were outliers in the investigation. Of the 57 hotels investigated, 50 of them saw five or fewer arrests over the eight-month period. Nearly half of the hotels had zero arrests during the course of the investigation.

In Queens, 12 of the 24 hotels had zero arrests during the investigation. The DHS did not identify the Queens hotels where homeless individuals and families are placed.

The DHS spokesperson stated that this underscores what the DOI recognized in their report: that the use of commercial hotel locations actually improves safety by providing additional security and stability.

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