2016-09-28 / Front Page

Cops Answered 641 Calls At Dutch Kills Shelter

By Liz Goff

Civic and local leaders are trying to figure out how the city chooses clients for its homeless shelters, and why so many people with a history of mental or psychiatric conditions are dumped in the shelter system, rather than being placed in facilities where they can obtain proper care and supervision.
Case in point: a homeless shelter for 200 women located at the former Verve Hotel at 40-03 29th St. in the Dutch Kills section of Long Island City.
Just released statistics show that there are currently 180 women living in the shelter. Fifty of those women are employed and close to living on their own, while 110 to 120 women have a history of psychiatric problems.
At a meeting last week attended by representatives of shelter operator Acacia Network and community leaders, police officials reported that officers at the 114th Precinct had responded to another 291 emergency (911) calls between June 1 and September 18, each involving shelter clients. The calls ranged from felony counts and drug possession to lesser counts of harassment and resisting arrest.
“Do the math,” Dutch Kills Civic Association President George Stamatiades said. “Officers at the 114th Precinct have responded to the shelter 641 times since it opened in October 2015. Throw that number at people who complain that police response is slow.”
The fact that cops were called to the shelter 291 times in just over three months, is in itself, startling.
“But when you add to that the fact that the same officers responded to 350 similar 911 calls involving shelter residents between November 2015 and February 2016, you have to question what’s going on there,” Stamatiades said.
“Many of the calls were placed by people inside the shelter – counselors and security guards who had problems with women who became combative,” a law enforcement source said. “They called 911 when situations got out of control, or when they posed some kind of imminent danger to others.”
“A number of the calls from the shelter were ‘aided’ requests for an ambulance or medical assistance for residents,” the source said. “There were a number of calls involving disputes and other conditions that required police intervention.”
People living near the shelter made 911 calls when they spotted shelter clients exposing themselves for cash to motorists, and to remove clients who were using basement laundry rooms to have sex with “customers.”
Former Dutch Kills Civic President Thea Romano said Dutch Kills residents were led to believe that the women would have to meet strict criteria to enter the shelter. “We were told it was a 10-month program that would prepare the women for a new life,” Romano said.
“The city lied to us. They didn’t tell us that when Mayor de Blasio signed an emergency declaration forcing the shelter to open, he was throwing the criteria in the trash.” Romano said.
“The city is hiding behind the shelters to keep people who need psychiatric services out of more expensive facilities,” Stamatiades said.
A census released by shelter management in March showed that 87 clients had a history of substance abuse, 89 suffer from a form of mental illness and 93 clients are receiving mental health treatment.
“The shelters are not being used for homeless people – folks who lost their homes to fire, financial or other catastrophes,” Stamatiades said. “The city has to stop dumping everyone in a shelter and instead place those in need of drug or mental illness treatment in appropriate facilities.”
Acacia took steps earlier this year to improve security inside the shelter and in the surrounding neighborhood. The measures included beefed-up security patrols at unannounced times by security guards in marked vehicles, the addition of two armed guards on each floor of the shelter, and two guards in the lobby. Acacia even transferred 18 “troublesome” clients to other facilities.
“How much is Acacia paying for the increased security measures?” Stamatiades asked. “How much of that is subsidized by the city, when that money could be used to provide appropriate care for people with mental illness?”
 “Someone has to take a long, clear look at what’s going on there,” he said. “Our police officers are too valuable for the city to use them as shelter babysitters.”

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