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City Needs Better Return on 46 Percent Homeless Spending Increase: Stringer

By Jeff Mays | February 10, 2016 7:03pm
 The city's not getting a good enough return on its increased spending on homelessness services, Comptroller Scott Stringer said Wednesday as he released an analysis of the city's budget.
The city's not getting a good enough return on its increased spending on homelessness services, Comptroller Scott Stringer said Wednesday as he released an analysis of the city's budget.
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DNAinfo/Colby Hamilton

HARLEM — The city's not getting a good enough return on its increased spending on homelessness services, Comptroller Scott Stringer said Wednesday as he released an analysis of the city's budget.

Spending on homeless services jumped 46 percent to $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2016 from 2014 when Mayor Bill de Blasio first took office, according to the report. In 2014, total spending was $1.175 billion.

"Given our significant investment in homelessness services, we need to see a real tangible return," Stringer said.

Stringer's remarks came on the same day police say Michael Sykes, 23, attacked and killed 26-year-old Rebecca Cutler and her 4-month-old and 1-year-old daughters in a Staten Island hotel used as a homeless shelter. Cutler's 2-year-old daughter is clinging to life, police said Wednesday afternoon.

Last month, Deven Black, 62, a former librarian and teacher, had his throat slit by his roommate in a Harlem homeless shelter for the mentally ill, according to police.

Stringer, whose recent audit uncovered decrepit conditions in the city's family homeless shelters, called for an immediate investigation.

"I am calling on the administration to conduct a swift and comprehensive review of all commercial hotels being used to house the homeless and provide a complete accounting of exactly what they intend to do to ensure these sites are sufficiently protected," Stringer said. "Resources must be added immediately to any areas where shortcomings are found."

Former Council Speaker Christine Quinn, now president and CEO of WIN, the largest non-profit provider of housing services to homeless women and children in the city, said the city should ensure that homeless women and families not be housed "in any situation in which there is no security and no support services."

Stringer, in unveiling his analysis, said the city had "an obligation to protect our most vulnerable citizens" but that taxpayers "need a clearer picture" of how much is being spent.

While the Department of Homeless Services budget was $1.4 billion, the city spends an additional $300 million dealing with homelessness in the Human Resources Administration and Department of Youth and Community Development.

De Blasio, who has come under criticism for his handling of the homelessness crisis, has increased homelessness spending and unveiled several new initiatives to tackle the problem.

They include spending $2.6 billion to create 15,000 units of supportive housing over the next 15 years, creating HOME-STAT, which will track each street homeless person and help them move into housing, and pledging 300 additional beds for homeless youth over the next three years.

The moves have earned de Blasio praise from homelessness advocates. Even Stringer's analysis pointed out that the largest city increase in homeless spending has come in the areas of homelessness prevention and aftercare.

During de Blasio's first year in office, the city spent $82 million on those issues. In fiscal year 2016, the city spent $259 million, an increase of 215 percent.

Mayoral spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick accused Stringer of "political grandstanding" and said the city was already committing "sustained resources" to address the crisis.

"We are immediately and aggressively tackling this issue with the most comprehensive effort in the country to prevent homelessness and move people out of shelter and into permanent homes," Spitalnick said. "The homelessness crisis was created by years of disinvestment; political grandstanding won’t solve the crisis for families around the city."