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Liu: BX Homeless Shelters Abound

Bronx Times

When it comes to the Bronx, the borough is socked with more homeless shelters than the rest of the city.

And when it comes to the Department of Homeless Services, a culture of unclear policymaking pervades the agency, according to a new report by the city Comptroller’s Office.

Dubbed “Down and Out: How New York City Places It’s Homeless Shelters,” the scathing report outlines a history of the agency’s often confusing policy when it comes to placing shelters in neighborhoods, with siting rules applying to some shelters, but not all.

Bu the study’s main point is the lack of public consultation mandated under the Fair Share siting process, allowing the public to voice concerns on the opening of a family or adults only homeless shelter.

The policy does not apply to temporary shelters, which have no vetting process, thus no city oversight but to those that go through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

But the report charges its been years since there has been a ULURP process for any DHS shelter.

It also points a major disparity in which neighborhoods get the most shelters.

In the Bronx, a high cluster of them have opened in the poor and working class west Bronx, while the more middle class east Bronx and Riverdale area barely have any.

Of the 370 listed shelters throughout the city, 148 of them are in the Bronx. Of that number, the Concourse community bears the brunt with 31 shelters.

“The siting of the shelters in these neighborhoods may permanently condemn these areas to poverty,” said Comptroller John Liu.

Meanwhile, areas falling within Riverdale’s Community Board 8 and the east Bronx Board 10’s borders lack any shelters, according to the report.

DHS is legally bound to provide housing to every homeless Bronxite, preferring to keep them within their own traditional neighborhood. But they’re also told to hold public meetings when opening a family or adult shelter. And that’s not happening, according to the report.

Soundview City Councilwoman Annabel Palma, chair of the general welfare committee, supports the report’s call for more oversight, but with a balance in order to help the homeless population.

“There needs to be flexibility to the process so that housing is always available and lives are not unnecessarily disrupted,” said Palma, adding that she supports equally distributing shelters throughout the Bronx.

Heather Janik, a DHS spokeswoman, said the agency reserves the right to evaluate proposals and submit them to the procurement process if approved. But the report charges the process takes nearly a year and a half, calling it far too long.

She also said the agency requires non-profit providers to notify local community boards about opening local shelters. But the report calls it just a courtesy, not a requirement.

The report recommends a Strong Families Rental Voucher Program similar to the federal Section 8 voucher, giving subsidies to homeless families and a chance to get back on their feet.

David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383

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