Homeless Shelter CAB Leaves Rosenthal, N90s Frustrated; City’s DHS and Aguila Efforts Evoke “Groundhog Day”
Public officials and neighbors alike participating in an overview of the mis-managed Freedom House shelter (the Community Advisory Board) have expressed disappointment and outrage over efforts by City Homeless bureaucrats and shelter operator Aguila to right their ship. The surreal CAB experience draws comparisons to some movies, “Groundhog Day,” or perhaps “50 First Dates,” or maybe “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” But there’s nothing funny about the lack of accountability and waste of human and taxpayer resources. This must stop!
FormerNYCComptroller @JohnCLiu wrote on TWITTER in 31 Oct 2013:
“Shoddy @NYCDHS oversight of Aguila homeless shelters is wasting taxpayers millions.”
At every meeting of the Community Advisory Board (CAB), which provides oversight for the Freedom House shelter (316 W. 95th St.), Council Member Helen Rosenthal asks Aguila, the vendor, and City homeless officials, the same question:
Why have you not hired the additional staffing needed to operate your shelter?
More staff would help Aguila manage an otherwise out-of-control facility that has failed to serve their homeless “clients.” While the City funded more personnel, neither the City nor its shelter operator have attempted to staff up Freedom House.
Neighboring properties, such as the Veterans residence at 330 West 95 complain about loitering, noise and drug transactions on the street near Freedom House, which is across from P.S. 75 and in a “Drug Free Zone” which imposes stronger penalties for drug dealing within four blocks of the school. One residential property added a tall iron fence and secure gate to ward off drug dealers from Freedom House.
Ms. Rosenthal, who successfully fought to get more staffing at the City’s poorly run shelters, shakes her head in disbelief. “I feel like we’re living through ‘Groundhog Day,’” she says, comparing the classic Bill Murray movie where he relives February 2nd daily, to the repetitive experience of dealing with City homeless officials and Aguila. The Council Member has asked them the same staffing question at each of the five recent meetings of the CAB, only to receive the same hapless answers.
Rosenthal Demands Accountability
Ms. Rosenthal demanded Aguila, and the Department of Homeless Services do their homework and take the following steps before the next CAB meeting:
- Mission statement and summary of services provided Freedom House clients
- Provide a Staffing Roster reflecting the expected additions to staff Provide tracker data produced by Security Patrols of front entrance/sidewalk*
- Provide data on outcomes for clients at the site (Housing, job training, etc.)
Better Call Helen!
Ms. Rosenthal requested the Department of Homeless Services keep open communication with her about moving the budgeting process along for Aguila to hire-up.
Even though a new operator will be in place in June 2018, Ms. Rosenthal wants to have this additional staffing now. While Aguila was fired back in May, they are being allowed to serve out the remaining 13 months on their City contract.
Best management practices rarely allow a party fired for cause to linger for so long. The vendor’s attitude came across at the recent CAB meeting, as Jenny Rivera, Aguila Director of Operations, kept her head buried in her smartphone while critical issues were discussed by the CAB.
A Few Bad Actors Get Moved*
Aguila and DHS recently instituted a “tracker” program to identify bad actors, couples who have repeatedly disregarded instructions from the shelter’s security staff. Sonya Russell from DHS explained that if problem couples were identified with mental hygiene issues, they would “be placed in other shelters where we have the staff to deal with mental health needs.” Aguila and DHS expressed hope that this would improve street conditions.
The 95th Street shelter has no screening for mental health, alcohol abuse and drug issues in its client intake process. Community members, including Neighborhood In The Nineties president Aaron Biller raised objections to the absence of screening, citing the shelter’s proximity to P.S. 75.
Commanding Officer Seth Lynch of the 24th Precinct attended the meeting and there was discussion about drug transactions at specific times and locations. As a policy, NYPD does not disclose its response to such reports.
Ms. Russell of DHS would not take any responsibility for the impact of what she terms “street homeless” who are causing quality of life issues, but are handled by a different agency within DHS. This practice of the left department hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, Ms. Rosenthal called,“silo-ing.”
“City homeless officials are guilty of contempt of community,” says Mr. Biller. “The City and Aguila have made no attempt to monitor and measure client outcomes. They are making window dressing attempts at lifting people out of the system, largely ignoring such needs as employment training or screening for mental health and drug/alcohol issues. To date, they haven’t kept records because they aren’t interested in achieving positive outcomes.
“We are very pleased that our Council Member Helen Rosenthal is holding the shelter operators to account for its poor operation and its negative impact on our neighborhood. However, our community is tired of carrying a societal burden that should be shared by other communities across the five boroughs.
“The City targets communities in The Bronx and the Upper West Side with an unconscionable concentration of facilities in violation of the City Charter’s Fair Share legal mandate, and this must change,” says Mr. Biller adding, “The New York Times has documented that the Upper West Side houses over 1,000 more homeless than actually come from the community.” See: https://tinyurl.com/y7n2hqhj
Neighborhood In The Nineties at info@N90s.org. Our website is www.N90s.org, on Twitter at @N90sorg, and Facebook.
Council Member Helen Rosenthal’s office: HRosenthal@council.nyc.gov, or 212.873.0282 X200.
For life and death issues, or aggressive panhandling, contact 911. Most homeless issues warrant a 311 call. The Community Board is convening a panel to create guidelines for when to make a 311 vs. 911 call.
Here’s some recent media coverage on the City’s homeless crisis:
New Solution To Homeless: Pay Them To Leave –
With No Real Strategy, DeBlasio Repeats Old Trick
More Waste: City Lets Homeless Shelters Set Their Own Room Rates;
Some Shelters Charge 3X More Than Others – City Audit
Homeless? What Homeless?
Mayor Performs Hocus Pocus!
Homeless Swept Aside To Avoid Bad Optics At Verdi Sq. Event;
WCBS’ Marcia Kramer Calls Out de Blasio’s Double Standard