ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Auditors have reported finding unchecked squalor including rodents, vermin, mold and fire hazards in New York homeless shelters, faulting inadequate state oversight.
In a report released Tuesday, the comptroller's office said its auditors visited 20 certified and 19 uncertified shelters statewide, including 26 in New York City, giving operators less than 24 hours' notice.
"We did identify numerous issues that rendered living conditions unacceptable at most of the shelters," they reported. They estimated New York's homeless population at 80,000. The audit from April 2013 until last Aug. 5 said most shelters were in disrepair with filthy living conditions, some posing serious and obvious health risks.
They found evidence of rodent and vermin infestations at 16 shelters, fire safety issues like expired extinguisher inspections at 15 shelters, and mold in residents' rooms at eight shelters, as well as various worn and soiled mattresses, missing carbon monoxide detectors and holes in walls and ceilings.
At Community Housing Innovations family shelter in Westchester County, they found a rooftop-access door removed from its hinges, allowing anyone including children unprotected access to the roof. At Bellevue men's shelter in Manhattan, with capacity for 850, two of three elevators were out of service. The shelter's state certification lapsed after 2004 because of its physical condition.
The Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance watches over 157 state-certified shelters, delegating oversight of uncertified shelters to the New York City Department of Homeless Services and to county social services departments. OTDA is formally responsible for the mostly small uncertified shelters, auditors said, but was minimally involved in their oversight.
"The audit, conducted in the middle of last year, may have raised valid points, but it's now dated as our policies have since been revised," OTDA spokeswoman Kristi Berner said Tuesday. New regulations have been put in place, it's partnering with state, New York City and Buffalo comptrollers to examine every shelter statewide and legislation has been advanced to make it easier to remove bad operators, she said.
Auditors found that 22 of the 47 most serious issues had been previously noted in OTDA annual inspections but remained uncorrected, with no follow-up or enforcement actions. They identified six uncertified shelters with capacity for 20 or more residents, which requires state certification. That list included Bellevue, from which OTDA has withheld $25.9 million, despite upgrades since 2004, to complete them.
For 2014, the city and counties billed the state about $1.1 billion for homeless housing, with more than $954 million for New York City and $140 million for the rest of the state, the report said.
"We're spending a lot of money. But it's not being well run, and I agree that the state was not aggressive enough for a period of time," Gov. Andrew Cuomo told NY1 on Tuesday. "And that has now changed, and we have to do a better job, and the city has to manage the shelter system in accordance with the rules and regulations. And we're going to make sure that that happens."