Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks (r.) said the City is working “to evaluate remaining as well as new locations to ensure the safety of our homeless families as we phase out the use of commercial hotels once and for all.”
By Forum Staff
The City Department of Homeless Services does not consider criminal activity at prospective hotels prior to placing families with children at those locations, according to a scathing report released on Thursday by the Department of Investigation.
The analysis pointed to two instances in the Bronx in which DOI investigators found homeless families with children sharing the same facilities as prostitution enterprises and uncovered troubling observations and interactions by homeless residents that included a proposition to work as a prostitute to supplement income. The probe also identified dozens of prostitution-, assault- and controlled substance-related arrests on the premises of commercial hotels housing homeless families with children throughout the five boroughs.
According to the report, DHS did not assess prospective hotels against indicators of potential illicit activity prior to client placement, or shortly thereafter in the case of emergency placements. City Investigators reviewed arrest incidents between Jan. 1, 2017 and Aug. 10, 2017, and found arrest incidents had occurred on the premises of 34 of the city’s 57 commercial hotels housing homeless families with children. Among those incidents were 59 prostitution-related arrests, 34 assault-related arrests and 11 arrests for controlled substances.
Department of Investigation officials noted that the existence of red flags at these 34 sites does not, of itself, demonstrate a need to close all of these sites, but it does expose a need for DHS to perform safety assessments.
“There is no more important obligation than providing safe shelter to homeless children and families. DOI’s investigation found several safety concerns that require immediate attention,” said DOI Commissioner Mark Peters.
Additionally, DOI investigators also identified suspicious booking patterns at both the Bronx Days Inn and the Bronx Super 8 Hotel, including an individual who purchased as many as 77 nights during the period examined. In some instances, these individuals paid for their stays all in cash, which is typical of prostitution promoters who use all-cash transactions to anonymize their illicit activities. DOI also discovered that simple internet searches of the Bronx Days Inn and Bronx Super 8 Hotel addresses along with keywords such as “escort” would result in several links to websites promoting prostitution and containing the contact information and addresses of the hotels.
According to DOI, Homeless Services has agreed to DOI’s recommendation that it will enhance its commercial hotel for families with children approval criteria to include a public safety component that will identify possible criminal activities occurring at prospective hotels.
“We are pleased that DHS has recognized these concerns and is working with DOI to put measures in place to solve this problem,” Peters added.
DHS has also agreed to, where possible, reserve an entire hotel for families with children, rather than a portion, to eliminate the possibility of DHS clients sharing locations with criminal behavior.
“Upon being notified of safety concerns requiring immediate action, we took immediate action, relocating families or occupying locations entirely, as DOI recommends and recognizes in this report,” said Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks. “We are working closely with our NYPD management team to evaluate remaining as well as new locations to ensure the safety of our homeless families as we phase out the use of commercial hotels once and for all.”