Shelter failures in New York City linked to violence and deaths

The Big Apple’s embattled Department of Homeless Services is struggling to connect needy New Yorkers living in city shelters to much-needed mental health services — a failure that has had fatal consequences, a inflammatory new report reveals.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s 41-page audit linked botched DHS ratings to two recent homicides, an attempted murder, a robbery, a suicide at an animal shelter and at least two drug overdoses.

“Based on DHS records, there is limited assurance that clients have been placed and/or relocated to an accommodation that is best able to provide the services needed to assist the individual achieve permanent housing, independent living.” or to obtain further treatment in a more appropriate manner, if necessary,” the DiNapolis report said.

The review also found that DHS often provides tight rooms in treatment facilities to New Yorkers without mental health problems — while drug addicts and the mentally ill are not moved to specialized facilities when beds become available.

homeless person
There is an increasing need for homeless New Yorkers to receive psychological help.
REUTERS/ Andrew Kelly
    Tom Dinapoli
State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s 41-page audit linked botched DHS placements to two recent homicides.
Ron Adar / M10s / MEGA

The stunning stats unearthed by the watchdog show:

  • Of the 3,022 identified as having a serious mental illness, 26% were not placed in a facility that offered mental health services
  • 49% of the 1,061 diagnosed as an alcoholic or drug addict were not placed in an emergency shelter that provides appropriate services
  • 43% of the 1,546 homeless seniors were housed in general shelters

The cascading chain of bureaucratic oversights makes it difficult for needy and mentally ill New Yorkers to maintain their treatment and therapy, which can lead to relapse and make it much more difficult for them to return to normal life.

Buried deep within the report is the shocking revelation that DiNapoli’s probes found homeless New Yorkers transferred from DHS were both perpetrators and victims of high-profile crimes.

Investigators linked a murder to a DHS client – who was not identified in the report – who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder but lived in regular accommodation for more than three years, although his social worker reported that he was off his medication didn’t take.

homeless person
DHS is failing to move drug abusers and the mentally ill to specialized facilities when beds become available, the review found.
REUTERS/ Andrew Kelly

He fell out of the system and was charged six weeks later with a murder committed during a robbery.

The error catalog compiled by the State Comptroller found several instances where DHS was right – and then wrong.

Another client diagnosed with schizophrenia was initially placed in a psychiatric services facility but was then transferred at least 12 times. He ended up in a general population home in August 2020 and was arrested a few months later and charged with murder.

DiNapoli’s report revealed that the consequences of DHS’ failures were often borne by the very people the shelter system was designed to help – the homeless.

A DHS client was diagnosed as schizophrenic during his enrollment in the protection system. But he was taken to a general animal shelter, where he suffered from psychotic episodes and did not take his medication – and was later found dead of an apparent suicide.

Tom Dinapoli
DiNapoli investigators discovered that homeless New Yorkers transferred from DHS were both perpetrators and victims of high-profile crimes.
Stephen Yang

An 89-year-old homeless man was placed in a general population shelter instead of a senior citizens’ shelter. There he was attacked by a 40-year-old man with a criminal record and had to be taken to the hospital.

Currently, more than 63,000 New Yorkers live in city-funded shelters—the majority are families with children who have been homeless due to economic hardship or domestic violence.

Of the 3,022 found to have a serious mental illness, 26 percent were not placed in a facility that offered mental health services.
Matthew McDermott

The report focused on DHS shelters for single adults, a population of approximately 20,000, who are typically the highest-need population.

DHS officials defended their performance in their response to DiNapoli, claiming that each shelter is capable of providing the basic needed services for homeless New Yorkers.

They have also repeatedly pointed to capacity shortages across the system – claiming that DiNapoli’s audit raised doubts.

More than 63,000 New Yorkers live in city-funded shelters.
Matthew McDermott

The audit found that 103 of the 368 beds in senior living quarters were occupied by people under the age of 65 and that hundreds of mental health treatment beds were unused, according to information obtained in October 2021.

“While DHS welcomes any audit that helps us improve our services, the State Comptroller’s Audit draws conclusions without regard to regulation, law, privacy concerns or operational constraints we face,” said DHS spokesman Stephen Witt.

“This audit fails to recognize those factors and makes dangerous and unfounded assumptions about our clients and services.”

Additional reporting by Bernadette Hogan Shelter failures in New York City linked to violence and deaths


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