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Families Overwhelmed by Closing of Bronx Homeless Shelter

By Eddie Small | August 8, 2014 5:57pm | Updated on August 11, 2014 8:54am
 Antoinette Redman and Heather Hamilton (L-R) said they were distraught over the closing of the Intervale Avenue shelter. 
Antoinette Redman and Heather Hamilton (L-R) said they were distraught over the closing of the Intervale Avenue shelter. 
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Picture The Homeless

LONGWOOD — Antoinette Redman fears that she and her two children will be out on the street after the agency running an Intervale Avenue homeless shelter announced that it would to be closing the doors permanently.

With only a few weeks left to go before school starts, she's worried about how her 7- and 9-year-old children will handle leaving a place they've called home since February 2011.

“It was very overwhelming,” she said, “because this will mean that I have to uproot my family and go somewhere else.”

This is very stressful, and this is a lot for one person," she said. "I don’t feel good about this at all because this is not healthy for me or my kids."

The memo from Aguila, Inc., the company that operates the shelter at 941 Intervale Ave., was very brief, saying only that it “will no longer be operating the Bronx Neighborhood Annex Shelter program."

“Over the coming weeks and months, you will be provided transfer information for placement in a new shelter location,” it reads.

The letter provides a phone number for residents to call with any questions or needs while they remain at Intervale Avenue, but repeated attempts by DNAinfo to reach someone at this number were unsuccessful.

The letter does not provide a reason why the shelter is closing, but sources said it was shutting down because the Department of Homeless Services is reducing the rent it pays to privately owned residential buildings that shelter the homeless.

DHS declined to disclose a timeline for when the shelter would close or the amount of rent the city is paying the shelter.

Redman is still at the shelter and said she has been given no information about where she will go next.

"There’s no indication of what’s going to happen or where we’re going to go or if we’re going to be replaced or what," she said. "So that’s where it’s at right now, and it puts you under a lot of strain."

DHS said that since the provider of the Intervale Avenue shelter has decided not to work with the department at this site anymore, the agency would figure out how to ensure that the families there remain safe and sheltered.

"It's our expectation that all parties involved will act in a responsible manner, so as not to create a stressful environment for these families," the statement reads. "We will continue to work with these families towards obtaining permanent housing and rebuilding their lives."

A 2011 audit from the City Comptroller's office about the control DHS had over billing and paying Aguila concluded that the agency inadequately monitored Aguila’s finances, failing to ensure accurate invoices and appropriate expenses.

“Additionally, DHS did not effectively monitor Aguila’s operational performance to ensure that Aguila housed clients in safe and sanitary conditions and transitioned its clients to permanent housing in a timely manner,” according to the report.

A follow-up audit in 2013 found that DHS still had room for improvement in its dealings with Aguila, noting that it did not have written contracts for many of the company’s facilities and that many clients are placed in shelters with hazardous and unsanitary conditions.

DHS said Aguila responded fairly well to the audit and has implemented changes such as developing a policies and procedures manual that DHS saw and vetted.

Residents had previously criticized the shelter as roach infested, leaky and moldy, and two fires at the building in December 2012 forced about 40 families to relocate.

The building houses 41 families and has 21 open violations with the Department of Buildings for faults such as rotted floor beams. Additionally, in its 2013 audit, the Comptroller's office found 1,565 open violations with the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development at the 43 Aguila buildings used by DHS. The Intervale Avenue Shelter currently has six open violations, according to the agency's online records.

Aguila referred questions to DHS.

Heather Hamilton, a member of Picture the Homeless, said that the situation was alienating for all residents, but her main focus was on the children.

"Children in the shelter system live a tumultuous lifestyle, bounced around, spending years constantly waiting for another shoe to drop," she said in a statement. "We want permanent placement, not child endangerment."