The shelter on W. 95th Street is finally being realistically addressed
by Helen Rosenthal
Cutting the number of homeless adult couples living in the DHS Shelter on West 95th Street is a terrific first step-we are halfway to our goal of closing the shelter for good. The shelter is housed in a building that should be used for meaningful permanent affordable housing.
How did we get here? Nearly two years ago, the City's Department of Homeless Services signed an emergency contract with Aguila to provide temporary shelter to homeless adult couples in 400 units in 2 connected SRO buildings on West 95th Street. Then Comptroller Liu refused to sign the contract. Two weeks ago, the NY Supreme Court ruled that the Comptroller must sign the contract. A few days ago, the City and Comptroller announced that a new contract would be signed, but for half the number of units. The contract will begin in November 2014, which gives DHS six months to find alternative shelter units for 200 of the current adult couples.
What's next? First, I strongly encourage the City to negotiate with the building owner a lower rate per unit at this location (now called Freedom House). It is still at $3700/month/per unit for rent and services, including $50 per night or $1,500 per month for lodging. Surely $1,500 per month for a single room with no bathroom or kitchen (they are communal, shared by all units on the floor) is too much to pay.
Second, the City should negotiate with the Aguila for a lower cost for services. At a recent meeting with representatives of the shelter, DHS, NYS Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal's office, and the local community, we heard about their staffing model which seem to include less than a dozen workers, including one Director of Social Services who provide help finding permanent housing, case work, supervision, and drivers who take folks to City-funded programs to find jobs. According to DHS, they pay roughly $74 per night per unit for these services? $2,200 per month?. For less than a dozen staff, DHS pays over $10 million annually. If each of the staff made roughly $100,000 annually (!), that would leave almost $9 million overhead for Aguila.
Although my office is still waiting for final confirmation of the details, it appears that the success of this expensive shelter program is a yield of 44 couples placed in permanent housing in the first 15 months of the program's operation. This is a ten percent success rate.
I think the city could do better.
Rosenthal is a New York City Councilmember representing the Upper West Side.