2016-11-16 / Editorials

What’s Going On Here?

BY GEORGE L. STAMATIADES, Dutch Kills Civic Association of Long Island City

City and local news outlets have been providing wrap-around coverage of neighborhood battles to stop Mayor Bill de Blasio and Human Resources Commissioner Steven Banks from converting hotels into homeless shelters.

Images of protestors waving signs debunking the city’s plans have been splashed across the pages of newspapers and internet news services, reporting local concerns of increased crime and reduced quality of life in shelter neighborhoods.

One missing piece in this flurry of reporting is a lack of statistics that offer proof of the city’s and operators’ inability to manage its homeless shelters. The media has failed to report statistics showing criminal activity and medical emergencies at the shelters that require a response by first responders. News outlets have also failed to report on the cost to the city for security at these facilities, as well as on the city’s failure to maintain shelters as havens for truly homeless New Yorkers.

Residents in the Dutch Kills community have been 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 services.

Case in point: a homeless shelter for 200 women located at the former Verve Hotel at 40-03 29th Street in the Dutch Kills section of Long Island City. The shelter opened without prior notice to the community just over a year ago. The residents of Dutch Kills were not afforded time to protest the shelter that was opened overnight by an emergency declaration signed by de Blasio.

We have since compiled the following embarrassing statistics that display the city’s complete incompetence in matters relating to shelter operation. We have offered to share these statistics with members of the media, most of whom have turned a deaf ear to us. So the people of Dutch Kills are taking this opportunity to release the “hidden truth” – a look inside the city’s operation of its shelter system. Keep in mind that the following information pertains to just one city shelter:

NYPD statistics show that officers at the 114th Precinct have made 30 arrests at the Verve Homeless Shelter in the last 12 months, including: five felony arrests, one misdemeanor assault on a police officer, two arrests for weapons possession, one grand larceny, two felony mischief, one menacing, one petit larceny, one resisting arrest, two criminal possession of a controlled substance and 15 arrests for third-degree assault. Officers have also issued 10 criminal court summonses to shelter clients.

• Police, fire and emergency medical responders answered 825 911 calls at the Verve Hotel homeless shelter since it was opened in November, 2015. Most called for response by one NYPD vehicle with two officers. But in some cases, as many as 5 NYPD cars were needed at the scene.

• Each 911 call brought one fire engine with 4- 5 firefighters and one supervisor to the scene. On many occasions, multiple units were called to the scene.

• Each call brought at least one ambulance with two FDNY emergency medical technicians to the scene.

The city has so far failed to respond to the following questions:

• What is the cost to the city for these multiple agency responses?

• How is the surrounding community impacted by these responses?

According to a census released by shelter manager, Acacia Network, there are currently 180 women living in the Dutch Kills shelter dubbed “Pam’s Place.” Fifty of those women are employed and close to living on their own, while 110 to 120 of the women have a history of psychiatric problems or suffer from a mental illness. The census further states that 87 clients have a history of substance abuse and 93 are receiving mental health treatment.

The Department of Homeless Services (DHS) took steps earlier this year to improve security in and around the shelter. Provider Sena Security assigned a total of four guards to patrol the neighborhood 24 hours a day in two marked vehicles, one security guard to patrol each floor of the shelter, and three guards to secure the shelter lobby area.

That adds up to a total of $4,920 per day ($15 per hour, 24 hours) for security at this shelter, NOT including salaries for supervisors and all staff benefits. That’s a total of $34,440 per week, and a whopping $1,790, 880 per year for security services at this one facility.

Do the math. The city is spending more each year on security for this one shelter for 200 women, than most small US towns spend each year to fund their police or sheriff’s departments. How much of this cost is subsidized by the city?

Someone must take a good look at the administration’s policy that wastes taxpayer dollars on shelter security rather than using that money to provide appropriate services for people with special needs.

Our emergency responders are far too valuable to waste time and resources answering 825 calls at this shelter. Our police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians are too valuable to be used as babysitters.

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