Key Homeless Group Says NYC Hiding Shelter Problems in Missing Data

NYC Mayor Eric Adams acknowledges the city violated its legal mandate to shelter families on July 17-18, but a key report for that time period obtained Sunday by News 4 does not list any violations

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What to Know

  • New York City's Department of Investigation is probing a violation of shelter laws involving four families on the evening of July 17 - and whether there was an effort to cover up that violation
  • The Coalition for the Homeless says daily data reports published by the Department of Homeless Services are misleading, claiming “zero” families were housed that night in the city's PATH shelter intake center
  • City Hall insists that all violations were corrected and all relevant parties were notified once officials realized infractions had happened in the first place

Data is missing from certain of New York City's daily homeless shelter reports, potentially concealing serious problems like a failure to place families by legally mandated deadlines, according to the Coalition for the Homeless. 

New York City officials, for their part, acknowledge a key inaccuracy in at least one report but say they are working to make sure the reports are consistently correct in future.

City officials have already acknowledged that on the evening of July 17 into the morning of July 18, four families were not placed in a timely manner and remained overnight on chairs and floors at the shelter system intake office known as PATH, a practice that is prohibited under local law and a 2008 court settlement.

But the daily report for the 17th, a copy of which was obtained last week by the Coalition for the Homeless and provided to News 4, indicates that no families spent the night there.

New York City has right-to-shelter laws, and families who present to the PATH shelter intake facility in the Bronx by 10 p.m. are supposed to be placed in a shelter by 4 a.m. Not placing them by 4 a.m. - or letting them sleep at PATH instead of in a designated shelter - violates local law and various court rulings. 

"The Adams administration has to stop playing games with numbers and with its responsibilities to homeless families and individuals,” Deborah Diamant, director of government relations and legal affairs with Coalition for the Homeless, said in a statement to News 4. The Coalition serves as the city-appointed outside monitor of conditions in the city’s family shelters.

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The July 18 report, which lists “0” families with children remaining overnight in the PATH office, comes as the Adams administration denies allegations of a cover-up by officials at the City’s Department of Social Services.  

A representative for the Department of Social Services confirmed Monday that the report was inaccurate as released.

“While the accurate figures were shared publicly a month ago at a press conference, the error in this report was an unintentional oversight that was posted before we realized the error. Going forward, we will manually update this field in these daily reports so they are correct and consistent," the spokesperson said.

In response to that statement and to this story, the Legal Aid Society and the Coalition issued a joint release blasting the city and warning they might escalate the situation.

"The Administration’s continued failure to provide timely and accurate information on these families in need, including data requested by us weeks ago, suggests that this crisis could be far more widespread than what the City was initially forced to acknowledge," they said Monday. "Our clients, homeless New Yorkers, including newly arrived families and individuals from the southern border, deserve immediate answers, and we’re considering every option, including litigation, should the City continue to withhold this critical information.”

The city's Dept. of Investigation is opening an investigation after an alleged coverup of illegal conditions in the homeless shelter system — and the termination of a staffer who tried to expose it. NBC New York's Melissa Russo reports.

Shelters in Crisis

What actually happened at PATH that night, and who knew it and when, has become a massive controversy for the Mayor and his administration over the last week - and is now the subject of a probe by the city Department of Investigation

As News 4 reported extensively last week, the top spokeswoman for the Department of Social Services was fired Aug. 5, after emails and text messages show she pushed back on alleged efforts by DSS management to conceal the problems at PATH.

In one text message, former DSS Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Julia Savel wrote to a City Hall aide “I just can’t work for a commish who is ok with covering up something illegal.” 

Several sources tell News 4 that staff at the Department of Social Services, including the agency's legal team, were angry after being instructed to hold off on telling City Hall, and not promptly notify the Legal Aid Society, as has been past protocol.

One day after the News 4 report aired, a spokesman for Mayor Eric Adams issued a new statement, saying Social Services Commissioner Gary Jenkins had quickly notified Deputy Mayor Ann Williams-Isom early in the morning on July 18, after he learned about his agency’s failure to place families. City Hall has maintained that Commissioner Jenkins was unaware that the overnight stays amounted to a legal violation that could subject the city to fines and lawsuits on behalf of homeless families.

It was not until after News 4 exposed the violations - disclosed in interviews with recent Venezuelan migrants on July 20  - that the city acknowledged the situation. 

“We do not believe that the information the City is reporting in the ‘Family Intake’ section of the DHS Daily Report is accurate and can be relied upon. The report uploaded by DHS with data for July 17, the night that the City admits to leaving four families with children to sleep on chairs and the floor in the PATH intake office, does not reflect that any violation occurred and instead shows a zero where the number of families left overnight at PATH is to be recorded,” Diamant said. 

"This failure to provide accurate data to the public is in character with the Adams administration, which has repeatedly refused to answer questions from advocates and reporters to clarify data he has shared via press releases on matters that pre-date the shelter capacity crisis.” 

The apparently incorrect report came one day before Mayor Adams' July 19 announcement that NYC needed federal funding to help with a surge of asylum seekers who had entered the shelter system in recent weeks. 

But the Mayor did not specifically mention any legal violations or families sleeping in the intake office. Later that week Adams said he did not learn the city had violated its "right to shelter mandate" until July 20, after News 4 reported on it. 

City officials acknowledged there was a delay in disclosing the violations, but attributed that delay to unawareness of the law by Commissioner Jenkins.

Senior Homeless Services officials receive a daily report from PATH each morning at 4 a.m. notifying them of whether they have met their legal mandate.  News 4 has repeatedly requested copies of those reports but the city has not provided them.

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