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State Orders City to Increase Security at Homeless Shelters

By Jeff Mays | February 11, 2016 10:19am
 The state agency that oversees emergency shelters ordered the city to beef up security at those facilities following the fatal stabbing Wednesday of a homeless mother and her two young daughters at a hotel on Staten Island.
State Orders City to Increase Security at Homeless Shelters
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WEST VILLAGE — The state agency that oversees emergency homeless shelters ordered the city to beef up security at these sites following Wednesday's fatal stabbing of a homeless mother and her two young daughters at a hotel on Staten Island.

The New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance cited the stabbing deaths of Rebecca Cutler and her 4-month-old and 1-year-old daughters in ordering the city to close the Ramada Inn where Cutler and her three daughters were staying and to relocate all city shelter residents being housed there.

The agency also cited the stabbing death of Deven Black, a 62-year-old whose throat was slit last month at a Harlem homeless shelter for the mentally ill, and an unrelated incident where a 36-year-old was attacked with knives by fellow shelter residents, as it ordered the city to take immediate action.

"This trend of violence in emergency shelters is simply unacceptable and you, as the district receiving funding to provide safe and habitable services and shelter, must take immediate and effective action to protect your residents," OTDA Executive Deputy Commissioner Sharon Devine wrote in a letter Wednesday to city Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks.

Police say Cutler's boyfriend, 23-year-old Michael Sykes, is responsible for the murders.

Cutler's 2-year-old daughter survived, but is clinging to life, police said. Police are searching for Sykes, who called his mother after the stabbings and hinted that he planned to take his own life.

The man suspected of killing Black, a former teacher, is also still at large.

The state ordered the city to certify that it had posted 24-hour law enforcement security at all emergency shelter sites.

The city must also provide an "assessment of security measures in place, as well as an aggressive plan for providing and improving security measures" at all emergency shelter sites as well as cluster sites, which are apartments in privately owned buildings that are used to house homeless families.

De Blasio has previously announced that the city plans to phase out cluster site homeless housing.

The mayor, during a Wednesday press conference, said the city had already closed the hotel shelter where Cutler was killed and pledged to provide free security for the 41 other hotel shelters in the city.

"This is an atrocious crime," he said.

De Blasio spokeswoman Karen Hinton said the city had already swung into action before receiving the letter from the state.

"We are doing what the state has asked us to do," Hinton said. "At 2:30 p.m. Wednesday we announced the steps the state addressed in its letter [that came] several hours later at 6:30 pm."

The recent deaths highlight the scrutiny de Blasio has faced as he manages the city's homelessness crisis. The current shelter population stands at 58,183, including more than 23,000 children, just below the record high.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has criticized de Blasio's ability to manage the issue. Cuomo issued an executive order in December ordering all homeless people to be removed from the street when the temperature dips below freezing.

In his State of the State address last month, the governor announced a plan to have the state and city comptrollers inspect and help close dangerous and inadequate shelters.

On Wednesday, city Comptroller Scott Stringer released an analysis of the city budget that shows spending on homeless services has risen 46 percent to $1.7 billion since de Blasio took office in 2014 but that the city needs to insure taxpayers are getting "a real return on investment."

City Hall accused Stringer of "political grandstanding."

De Blasio said the shelter where Cutler was staying with her children had overnight security but that the shift ended at 6 a.m., two hours before Cutler and her children were killed.