NEW YORK – PIX11 asked New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer what is the first thing that comes to mind when he hears the letters DHS— he responded, “Dysfunction.”
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer did not hold back when discussing the New York City Department of Homeless Services, and the agency’s continuing practice of placing homeless families, on what is described as an emergency basis, in hotel rooms across the city.
"It's sickening that we have people living like this without no hope to get out of the homeless shelters," said Stringer.
Stringer sat down exclusively with PIX 11 News to discuss a disturbing finding from our ongoing series on homelessness, “No Place to Call Home”.
"I think the way you are approaching this raises a lot of questions for elected officials in this city,” said Stringer.
At the top of that list— Mayor Bill de Blasio, who back on November sixth described the challenges ahead.
City Hall staffers promised we would get answers from Homeless Services Commissioner Gilbert Taylor.
It took eleven days—and a barrage of follow up emails, but it happened.
While Commissioner Taylor was quick to say he and his agency are passing with flying colors, he was reluctant to admit family shelter stays are now longer under his watch.
Internal DHS records obtained by PIX11 News show a consistent reliance on booking hotel rooms for homeless families—in some cases for up to fifty days a time, much longer than the standard ten-day temporary stay.
We also found DHS operatives are routinely booking those rooms with taxpayer dollars.
"When you throw money at something without thinking where we are going to be 5 or 10 years from now that is even more incompetent than we would like,” said Stringer.
More concerning, though, is how your tax dollars are being spent at this Quality Inn near the Queens, Nassau County border.
Records also show since October 12th, Commissioner Taylor’s team has been booking up to fifteen rooms per night at that Quality Inn, with lengthy reservations that stretch into the New Year, at a locked in rate of $175 a night, which amounts to more than $5,400 dollars a month.
“There is a questionable pattern that is very disturbing," said Stringer.
Parents we met at a Holiday Inn on Staten Island told us they were placed in stripped down rooms, were barred from entering the hotel’s common breakfast area, and instead were given boxed lunches filed with cold sandwiches, and rotten fruit, and according to the families were offered no social services.
"There is a real issue related to putting families in hotels without services, without kitchens, without the resources that our children need,” said Stringer. “The mayor has the right to appoint the members of administration, and he has the right to fire the people in his administration.”
Stringer also did not mind weighing in on Commissioner Taylor’s self-described “A for Effort”.
“No one should grade themselves,” said Stringer, “my early call is we shouldn’t be about spinning and grading, we should be about getting the work done. And i think it doesn’t matter how you think you’re doing. The facts speak for themselves.”
New York City’s chief financial officer revealed exclusively to PIX11 news, his staff is currently in the process of digging deep into DHS’ financials, and the way the agency cares for homeless families.
That nightly rate of $175 a night at the quality inn in queens, amounts to more than $5,400 month.
To put that into perspective, one of the popular rental websites currently lists four different properties for rent in that neighborhood, including an entire house with 4 bedrooms, for $2,700.
A DHS spokesperson sent us a response to our inquiry.
"The average length of stay in commercial hotels is under ten days. It is DHS' priority to ensure our client's needs are met in a comprehensive and efficient manner," said DHS spokesperson Nicole Cueto.