NYC homeless shelter residents making more calls to 311 over problems, but ‘no one’s listening’

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Denise Wells, who lived until recently at the Help Women’s Shelter in Bushwick, Brooklyn, says residents were treated “like dogs … like inmates.” (Kevin C. Downs/New York Daily News)

The city’s homeless shelter residents are increasingly angry and lashing out about poor living conditions despite Mayor de Blasio’s assertions that the struggling system serving more than 60,000 people is improving.

With the city often confronting safety and sanitary issues, residents have called the city’s complaint hotline nearly 10,500 times this year — about a 50% increase from the same stretch in 2015, records show.


The skyrocketing grievances seem to run contrary to the mayor’s much-touted statistics that show a 75% decline in shelter building violations since the beginning of the year.

Among the residents, there are about 23,000 children housed in shelters, records show.

“You can complain all day long, no one’s listening,” said Charmel Lucas, 49, who has lived in several shelters since she was displaced by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

“We see the rat infestations, moldy ceilings that have caved in on people, on people’s children. I mean, it’s really amazing,” she said.

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Wells said that she and nine others were forced out of the Help Women’s Shelter because the center was short on cash. (Kevin C. Downs/New York Daily News)

Details on the specific complaints dialed in to 311 were not provided by the city, but officials said they attribute the uptick to reforms initiated at the beginning of the year that urged residents to report unsafe conditions in the shelters.

“We are not only aggressively inspecting and repairing shelter conditions, we launched a campaign to improve communication with shelter residents, encouraging them to call about any problems they are having,” a spokeswoman with the Department of Homeless Services said.

Still, some homeless shelter residents said their complaints have gone unheeded.

“They treat us like dogs out here, like inmates. Every last woman here has called 311,” said Denise Wells, who until recently lived in the Help Women’s Center shelter in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn.

Wells, 48, said she and nine others were forced out of the building after they were told the shelter was short on cash.

“I called 311, that’s because we don’t have a voice. We need someone to speak for us. I told them, ‘You all need to come out and investigate,’” the now homeless Wells said.

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Mayor de Blasio has said the homeless system is improving for its 60,000 residents. City officials say the uptick in complaints is a result of policies urging people to report unsafe conditions. (Pasific Press/Lightrocket via Getty Images)

Help USA spokesman Jeff Simmons said there was no financial problem, and several residents were moved to other facilities based on assessments of their individual circumstances.

Shelly Nortz, a policy director at the Coalition for the Homeless, said the shelter system has improved in the last year but that there is much to be done if the city wants to curtail the roughly 60,000 people her group says sleep in shelters each night.

“They’re still working,” she said. “They still have more work to do.”

New York Daily News

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