NYC juked homeless stats and masked illegal overnight stays at intake office, report finds

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By Dan Sears

New York City’s former social services commissioner actively covered up unlawful overnight stays at the city’s lone intake facility for homeless families as a rising number of migrants began seeking emergency shelter in summer 2022, according to a report published Tuesday by the NYC Department of Investigation.

The 18-month probe found then-Department of Social Services Commissioner Gary Jenkins failed to notify Mayor Eric Adams’ office and the nonprofit Legal Aid Society after at least four families spent the night at the Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing intake center in the Bronx on the night of July 18, 2022, a violation of state shelter rules.

The investigation was launched after Jenkins’ former spokesperson publicly revealed his alleged efforts to mislead City Hall and the public about the problems.

Jenkins and his chief of staff falsely denied to Deputy Mayor Anne Williams-Isom’s staff that families were sleeping at PATH, which caused City Hall to “not have a complete understanding of what had occurred,” the report said.

Jenkins resigned in February 2023 and did not respond to a phone call and text requesting comment.

“The report recognizes the formidable challenges at the outset of this crisis which completely overwhelmed our entire system,” said DSS spokesperson Neha Sharma.

Investigators also found shoddy record-keeping by DSS made it impossible to know how many families spent the night at the PATH office. State rules prohibit the city from forcing families with children to sleep overnight at the intake center and require the city to transport them to temporary shelters.

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DSS’ practice of misleading the public dates back to former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s tenure, when the agency deliberately suppressed key data to paint a rosier picture of the city’s handling of its homelessness crisis, according to the report.

The Department of Investigation found that DSS officials working under de Blasio and then-Commissioner Steve Banks “artificially lowered” the number of families eligible for long-term shelter stays from 2017 to 2022, giving the impression the city was better managing its growing homelessness problem.

DOI Commissioner Jocelyn Strauber criticized what she called the “intentional and years-long effort within DSS to manipulate the number of families eligible for shelter on a daily basis.” Her department’s report found the stat-juking delayed residents’ access to housing vouchers and led to longer stays for families in homeless shelters.

Under city policy, families applying for shelter receive a temporary 10-day placement while intake staff investigate and determine whether they qualify for indefinite stay in the shelter system. Families found ineligible must reapply — sometimes as many as six times — before they are granted a long-term placement.

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State rules require DSS to move families who show up to the PATH site into temporary housing by at least 10 p.m. to prevent children from sleeping in the office.

Despite the city’s right to shelter for homeless families, the vast majority of applicants were for years denied placement and forced to reapply multiple times at the Bronx intake center, with the reapplication rate reaching a record high in 2021, according to a review by news outlet The City.

Officials interviewed for DOI’s report claimed de Blasio pressured Banks — who as an attorney in 2008 helped win the right to shelter for NYC homeless families — to underreport the number of families receiving shelter placements.

DSS Administrator Joslyn Carter told investigators Banks directed her to drive down the publicly reported numbers because de Blasio was “obsessed with getting the rate down” and “really angry that the rate had increased tremendously” in 2015.

A daily shelter census and eligibility statistics are used by media outlets and advocates to gauge the city’s response to homelessness.

Banks denied he fudged the numbers, according to the report, and DOI could not reach a final conclusion on his personal involvement in the alleged malpractice.

Banks said in a statement he was “gratified that DOI found no evidence that any family was left without shelter during my tenure and no evidence that I directed or was aware of this matter.”

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Sharma, the DSS spokesperson, defended Carter in a statement, saying the report was “not a reflection of the hard work of a civil servant who has demonstrated unwavering commitment to supporting vulnerable communities and has helped countless New Yorkers stabilize their lives.”

Sharma also said the agency worked at an “unprecedented speed and scale” to provide emergency shelter to tens of thousands of New Yorkers and recently arrived migrants at the time of the alleged violations and the ensuing months.

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