CBS2 Seeks Answers From De Blasio About Homeless Shelter Conditions, Outreach Failures

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Alarming new accusations about the city’s homeless shelters surfaced Tuesday night, along with more complaints about homeless encampments populated by those who eschew shelters.

As CBS2’s Tracee Carrasco reported, a homeless encampment on West 38th Street in Midtown Manhattan is significantly smaller compared with earlier this month. But residents said it is still overtaking the neighborhood.

“It just kept growing and growing, and then now you’re seeing like 10 people there,” said John Mudd of the Midtown South Community Council.

Chairs, suitcases, boxes and even a woman using the restroom on the street were among the sights at the encampment Tuesday. Some said they are there because it is their only option.

“They always keep telling you: ‘Well, we’re still looking for a place for you. We’re going to try to put you in a two-man apartment,’” said a man named Paul, who is homeless. “They go on and on with this and I told you, I was out here since the winter.”

He said the streets are also better than the alternative.

“Safer in the streets, yeah,” a man said. “I got family out here. You know what I mean? I don’t like shelters because I got beat up too many times.”

They all agree they are not rushing into shelters like one from which CBS2 obtained video.

The video showed stomach-turning pictures of dirty toilets, broken tiles, mold, and cockroaches running wild over garbage-strewn facilities. They document the conditions that homeless families with children are forced to endure at the New Dawn Shelter in Harlem – in what is not the best advertisement for convincing people to enter city shelters.

“Bad plumbing, elevator service always breaks down, mold everywhere, roaches, mice, raccoons living inside the building,” said Alexis Fleming, who is homeless.

On Tuesday, Fleming was limping because, he said, shelter workers beat him last week when he demanded that things be fixed.

“Multiple people kept hitting me – my back, my neck, everything,” Fleming said.

CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer asked Mayor Bill de Blasio about it.

“I had not heard that case, and obviously if that’s true, I’m very, very concerned,” de Blasio said.

Kramer’s questions for the mayor were focused on a discovery by CBS2 homeless consultant Robert Mascali, a former deputy commissioner in the Department of Homeless Services that efforts to get the homeless off the streets are often unsuccessful.

Of 4,084 contacts with the homeless between July 12 and Aug. 8, just 22 agreed to seek shelter – in what Mascali said was a success rate of less than 1 percent.

Kramer asked de Blasio about the failure of outreach efforts.

Kramer: “When you have these stories get out, ‘Go to this shelter because it’s bad,’ doesn’t it make it more difficult for you to do your job, and should you close a shelter like the New Dawn Shelter because their conditions are so horrible?”

De Blasio: “So I say this – we have to create a new reality. We have to create a reality where folks who are homeless and on the street, that they can feel confident that they can go into a safe haven or a shelter and be safe and clean and get the support they need. You’re absolutely right – there are some shelters that are not acceptable.”

Late Tuesday, Human Resources Commissioner Steve Banks told CBS2 the agency has hired a new group to run the New Dawn Shelter, and that it “will address conditions that have built up over many years.”

“We have zero tolerance for the mistreatment of clients,” Banks said.

Earlier, Banks said he was trying new approaches to get the homeless off the streets.

“We’ve built by name a list of 1,200 people who we have their actual names and we’re actively trying to bring them in,” Banks said.

The mayor also officials will release a report next month about the difficulty of getting the homeless into shelters, and make more recommendations for how to do it better.

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