NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — There was a call for action Wednesday from one Tri-State mayor to another concerning New York City’s forgotten families.
In the past week, CBS2 has reported on five families who say they were forced to move from city homeless shelters into dilapidated and unsafe homes across the Hudson River in New Jersey.
Kevin Nicholson and Sade Collington and their two boys, Michael Leake and his two daughters, Shakira Jones and Walter Harris and their three children, Jarvis Cureton and his wife and one-year-old son, and Nikita White, who’s single but too afraid to stay alone in a city shelter, all say their concerns were ignored.
CBS2’s Ali Bauman spoke with yet another family who says the city isn’t telling the truth about the program.
For Sophie Gurley, a single working mother of three, the city program offering to get her family out of the shelter seemed like a dream come true. But the teachers aide from the Bronx says the city sold her a false dream.
Gurley says the home in Newark has been falling apart since the city’s Department of Homeless Services moved her and her three children there last spring.
“No hot water, no lights,” she said. “I have to run a line through this surge.”
DHS offered Gurley its Special One Time Assistance program (SOTA), which covers one year’s rent for eligible working parents to move out of city shelters. Her’s one of at least a half-dozen families who say DHS pressured them into living in unlivable homes in New Jersey, many of which were not up to code.
“When you call DHS and try to reach out to these people. they either stop replying or just give you the roundabout,” Gurley said.
On Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio defended his city program and denied the family’s claims that DHS pressured anyone to move out of state.
“We don’t create the ideas out of thin air,” he said. “What typically happens is someone says I have a family somewhere or I used to live somewhere or I think I can get a job somewhere.”
Gurley says that’s just not the case.
“Lies, because I have no one here in New Jersey,” she said. “There are good people out here working, and really trying to find a way and y’all just say oh well that was their choice. No it wasn’t out choice. It was a forceful choice and very misleading and very unfair.”
Gurley says the DHS broker showed her a handful of homes in New Jersey.
“(They) made it seem very appealing,” she remembers. “I didn’t wanna come out here but I was like, ‘I’ll give it a chance’.”
The broker said they had just moved another family out of the home and they were “very happy.” Even though it was being renovated, she pictured her family around the fireplace.
“What convinced me to sign the lease was the housing specialist was like ‘you better get on this’,”
For two days after first seeing the house, the DHS housing specialist sent her text messages pressuring her into signing the lease, claiming “these apartments are like hot cakes.”
“They boost it up and make you feel like you have no other option,” Gurley said.
Last week, inspectors in Newark deemed the home uninhabitable.
“It looks like we’re gonna have to go back into the shelter,” Gurley said. “I went through all that and did everything I was supposed to.”
She said she’s most bothered by “being a statistic again.”
Following these reports, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka called on New York City to make changes to their program. CBS2 reached out to de Blasio’s office for reaction, but was referred to DHS who once again only said that they’re investigating and going after the wrongdoers involved.