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Mayor to Deploy 'SWAT Teams' to Make Fixes at City's Homeless Shelters

By Katie Honan | May 11, 2015 6:02pm
 Mayor de Blasio came to Corona Monday to announce a plan to repair shelters across the city.
Mayor de Blasio came to Corona Monday to announce a plan to repair shelters across the city.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

CORONA — The city will dispatch so-called "SWAT teams" to hundreds of homeless shelters to fix problems that plague the buildings after a Department of Investigation report revealed dangerous conditions at many of the sites, officials said Monday.

The multi-agency "shelter repair squad" will work on quick fixes — including smoke alarm issues, pest control and wall repairs — as well as long-term capital projects at more than 500 buildings, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced outside a family shelter in Corona.

"We're going to help ensure that every shelter is safe and healthy for all of its residents," de Blasio said, adding that the crumbling shelters are the result of years of underfunding by federal, state and city officials. 

"These SWAT teams are necessary because we're not dealing with a problem that just started in the last year or two, we're dealing with a problem that is decades old," he said.

The repair teams will be made up of employees from the Department of Homeless Services, the FDNY, the Department of Buildings, Housing Preservation and Development and the Department of Health. 

New Yorkers will be able to track the progress of repairs online, de Blasio said, while each service provider will receive a "score card" to track the quality of their shelters, according to DHS Commissioner Gilbert Taylor.

The effort will be paid for with $12.5 million from the budget for Fiscal Year 2016, the mayor said, in addition to another $100 million that's being allocated for programs that aim to reduce homelessness.

The announcement follows a scathing report released by the Department of Investigations in March which said the city turned a "blind eye" to deplorable conditions at shelters, including rodent infestations, lack of security and fire violations.

That investigation, which de Blasio said he asked for, helped push these fixes to the forefront, he said. 

"It was a damning report and it helped us recognize the pathway we have to take to make real changes, and we started to make immediate changes in our shelters," he said.  

Typical violations will be fixed within a week, the mayor said. Larger fixes, including capital improvements, will take longer.

The announcement of the new program comes as residents from one family shelter in Queens, inside the former Pan Am Hotel in Elmhurst, recently complained about the site's lack of kitchens — telling DNAinfo New York the food they're given in lieu of a working stove is worse than what's served in jail.

When asked about it Monday, Taylor said nothing was in the works yet at that shelter, despite the fact that city rules require shelters provide kitchens for residents.

"We don't have a plan yet to install cooking facilities at that location," he said. "We’re not certain that that would be actually the best thing for us to do."