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OTDA Launches Unprecedented Initiative to Inspect Homeless Shelters Statewide, Building on Local Audit and Inspection Efforts by NYS, NYC and Buffalo Comptrollers

OTDA introduces new regulations to strengthen its ability to oversee emergency homeless shelters and ensure improved conditions

January 26, 2016 – The New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) today announced the launch of an unprecedented effort to inspect emergency homeless shelters statewide. This effort is designed to ensure that shelters are safe, clean, supervised and well-maintained, as well as fully compliant with state and local laws and regulations, and will utilize audit reports and analysis produced by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, and Buffalo Comptroller Mark Schroeder. OTDA inspections will emphasize the health and safety of residents, and the state will work with local social service districts to correct deficiencies and ultimately improve conditions throughout the system.

To support these inspections and efforts to improve services to the homeless, OTDA also introduced new regulations that strengthen the state’s oversight authority of the emergency shelter network. These regulations ensure that all 887 emergency adult and family shelters in New York State will be inspected and corrective action will be taken to cure deficiencies. These inspections will cover emergency shelters of all types, including shelters operated by not for profits as well as local social service districts, hotels/motels that primarily are used as homeless shelters, and “cluster site” apartments used for emergency shelter.

These inspections and regulations support Governor Cuomo’s goal, announced in his 2016 State of the State, of improving the conditions of homeless shelters and restoring the public’s trust in the homeless shelter system.

“Homeless families are on the streets in all parts of the state,” New York State Comptroller DiNapoli said. “When they turn to a shelter to get out of the cold, families should feel safe, have clean places to sleep and be treated with dignity. Taxpayer money is going to operate shelters or to contract with local providers running shelters. We’re going to take a look at their operations and make sure that taxpayer money is being used for its intended purpose and is best serving vulnerable New Yorkers that have hit hard times.”

“I applaud Governor Cuomo for devoting increased attention and resources to conditions in homeless shelters statewide,” said NYC Comptroller Stringer. “This heightened scrutiny will allow us to focus on identifying and fixing problems that have plagued our shelters for too long. My office will continue to build on the independent audits and analysis we have conducted and seek new ways to improve conditions and service delivery for our most vulnerable citizens.”

“Ensuring that shelters are safe, clean and habitable is vital to addressing homelessness and helping people rebuild their lives,” said Buffalo Comptroller Schroeder. “I am proud to be working with Governor Cuomo on this important issue. Our collaborative efforts will result in a better shelter system for citizens in need, which means a stronger and more welcoming community overall.”

Strengthened Regulatory Authority

The primary purpose of this effort will be to identify and correct health and safety violations through Corrective Action Plans. Special attention will be paid to violations that have been previously cited through state inspections, the New York City Department of Investigation report dated March 12, 2015, and the audit of New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer dated December 21, 2015.

In order to strengthen the ability of the state to ensure that deficiencies cited in corrective action plans are fixed, new emergency regulations issued today will bolster the state’s oversight authority for emergency shelters in New York State. In the case of serious health and safety violations in emergency shelters – including violations identified by state or local Comptrollers – the regulations issued today allow OTDA to impose immediate measures in the case of serious and continuing health and safety violations. These measures could include:

  • requiring additional security;
  • directing the transfer of residents to other housing;
  • directing the cancellation of current operating contracts and retention of a new operator;
  • seeking a receiver; or
  • directing closure of the facility.

Independent Audits

DiNapoli, Stringer and Schroeder will independently select areas and entities to audit based on several factors, including the size of the population served, the size of state or local contracts, persistently badly performing shelters, complaints from the public, or irregularities in data examined or reported.

There are currently 887 emergency shelters throughout New York State, including 656 in New York City and 14 in Buffalo. More than 75,000 people sleep in homeless shelters across the state each night, and another 4,000 people sleep on the street on a daily basis.

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