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Cuomo Wants Stringer to Inspect and Close Bad Homeless Shelters

By Jeff Mays | January 13, 2016 4:32pm
 City Comptroller Scott Stringer will inspect New York City's homeless shelters under a plan Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled Wednesday in his State of the State and budget address.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer will inspect New York City's homeless shelters under a plan Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled Wednesday in his State of the State and budget address.
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NYS Governor's Office

NEW YORK CITY — City Comptroller Scott Stringer will inspect New York City's homeless shelters under a plan Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled Wednesday in his State of the State and budget address.

The long-awaited action from the governor on homelessness comes after he has relentlessly criticized rival Mayor Bill de Blasio as being unable to manage the city's homeless crisis.

"It has also been well established that many of our shelters are unsanitary and unsafe," Cuomo said during his hour-long speech in Albany. "People have been attacked and victimized in some shelters. And some would rather stay outside in the frigid cold than risk injury and they are right to do it."

Under the plan, Stringer, who is consider a potential challenger to de Blasio's reelection in 2017, will inspect shelters for safety, health and financial conditions.

"Shelters that they find to be unsafe or dangerous will either immediately add local police protection or they will be closed," Cuomo said. "Shelters which they find as unsanitary or otherwise unfit, will be subject to contract cancelation, operator replacement, immediate remediation or closure."

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli was also given the authority to inspect shelters across the state, except in Buffalo where that city's comptroller will inspect shelters there.

In unveiling the plan, Cuomo seemed to send direct criticism at de Blasio.

"Society's compassion must be matched with government competence," Cuomo said.

Leading up to Cuomo's remarks, the mayor's spokeswoman Karen Hinton took to Twitter to highlight the recent homeless policies that de Blasio has unveiled, including his plan to provide 300 beds for homeless youth and runaways, doubling the number of drop-in centers and spending $2.6 billion to create 15,000 units of supportive housing over the next 15 years.

After the speech, de Blasio said having the comptroller inspect city homeless shelters was not necessarily a bad idea and part of an "existing reality" that "could be very consistent with our goal of making sure that every shelter is fixed."

In an audit of the city's family shelters released last month, Stringer said that children were being subjected to "obscene" conditions because the city did not have enough staff to monitor the shelters.

Sources in Stringer's office said that Cuomo's plan did not increase the power the comptroller already has via the charter to audit the city's use of taxpayer money. What could change is the comptroller's reach if the state provides additional resources to pay for more staff, for example.

Homeless shelters are our invisible city," Stringer said in a statement. "I will work with my fellow Comptrollers, as well as our partners in City and State government, to continue to audit and investigate our shelters in a comprehensive way and ensure they are safe for our most vulnerable citizens. Increased state support is critical to addressing this challenge."

What "has to be worked through," said de Blasio, is what happens when the comptroller finds poor conditions. Sources in Stringer's office said they were also unclear about what the next steps would be if they find poor conditions.

Cuomo also proposed spending $20 billion over five years to create 100,000 units of affordable housing and 6,000 new supportive housing units in addition to 1,000 emergency shelter beds. Over the next 15 years, Cuomo said the state will create 20,000 supportive housing beds.

The governor has been criticized for not fully backing the creation of supportive housing units which advocates say is key to reducing homelessness.

Campaign for NY/NY 4, which has lobbied for the supportive housing, said they were "delighted" to see the governor's proposal and would work to "ensure this commitment is reflected in the budget."

Other Cuomo proposals include a plan to increase city spending to fund the City University of New York and pay for Medicaid spending, areas de Blasio said he was "concerned" about. The increases could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars for the city.

"Obviously we want to make sure that the interests of New York City are protected and that the resources we need to provide healthcare and to support students are there," said the mayor.

"In broad strokes, it's a good day for sure and some progress was made," said de Blasio about the speech. But he added about some of the governor's proposals: "We all know it's crucial to read the fine print."

Cuomo also announced support for extending mayoral control of schools to three years, a $10 million tax credit to reimburse teachers who buy supplies for their classrooms, establishing a larger presence of New York State Troopers to protect against terrorism and the creation of a permanent independent special counsel to investigate when police kill civilians.

Cuomo temporarily gave the Attorney General Eric Schneiderman that power last year.

Already unveiled proposals such as enacting a $15 per hour minimum wage and improvements to the MTA and Penn Station were well-received.

Cuomo also got personal at the end of his speech, proposing 12 weeks of paid family leave, inspired, he said by his wish that he had spent more time with his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, toward the end of his life.

"At the end of the day, family matters," Cuomo said. "Let's pass family leave this session."

His partner Sandra Lee's battle against breast cancer also sparked the governor to propose $90 million to increase breast cancer screenings across the state.

The address was not without drama. Brooklyn Assemblyman Charles Barron, who represents East New York, heckled Cuomo early in the speech. Barron, breaking the silence with his shouts, said he was upset about unequal school funding.

Cuomo at first dismissed Barron. "Everybody sees you and everybody heard you. Have a seat assemblyman," the governor said.

Barron persisted and soon Cuomo was shouting back.

"Just because you yell doesn't mean you're right," Cuomo said.