The head of the city Department of Homeless Services snubbed an invitation to Community Board 7’s Feb. 21 meeting — despite being a resident of the district and a former member of the board — because he’s not willing to face questions from his neighbors about why the community has been saddled with a disproportionate number of homeless shelters, according the CB 7 district manager, who said that he and other board members took his no-show as a personal slight.
“It’s very, very disappointing that one of our former board members does not show the respect to his former colleagues to simply answer our questions,” said Jeremy Laufer.
Laufer called out Commissioner Steven Banks for his department’s stonewalling of the community in a Jan. 9 letter, and challenged him to come to the February board meeting “to address the continued and unacceptable breakdown in communication that your agency has perpetuated in this community,” adding that it “fostered distrust of [the] agency as well as suspicions of the motivations of other agencies in our community.”
Laufer cited the less-than-24-hours’ notice that the agency provided locals in December, when the city took over the most recent Sunset Park hotel-turned-homeless shelter on Fourth Avenue between 25th and 26th streets — and he even accused agency reps and borough director Perri Litton of flat-out lying to the community board the month before by specifically saying multiple times that the agency had no plans to use that hotel as a shelter — even after locals said they heard rumors of the plan and saw homeless agency staff at the hotel in the weeks prior.
And that wasn’t the first time the agency has withheld information from Sunset Parkers, according to Laufer. Agency reps gave locals less than a week’s notice of the opening of a controversial shelter for single men on 49th Street — the same hotel that a so-called “community advisory board” discussed at an ostensibly public September 2016 meeting from which this paper was barred. The agency also failed to inform locals that a sex offender was living in a 38th Street shelter less than 1,000 feet from several schools, Laufer wrote, adding that the community board found out through media reports and that an agency rep later refused to admit that the man ever lived there.
Laufer wrote that he and others on the board believe the Department of Homeless Services is needlessly stigmatizing its own clients “by sneaking them into shelters and hiding facts from the community,” while the board believes “residents of our shelters should be integrated into the community.”
Ironically, the agency recently led a community workshop — which Laufer attended — with the purported goal of fostering better communication between the agency and the public after local officials throughout the city complained about the lack of transparency. That makes the agency’s subsequent stonewalling and commissioner’s snub appear part of an intentional pattern, according to Laufer’s letter.
“The recurring pattern of failure to communicate seems to be a policy of the agency and not some communications glitch,” he wrote.
Laufer said agency repeatedly offered for lower-level reps to attend the meeting, but that he and the board wanted the commissioner since he’s top brass.
“We want the commissioner, not someone who’s not in a decision-making capacity,” Laufer said.
The district currently has six hotel-turned-shelters, according to a recent report in Village Voice, and Laufer estimates that the shelters house at least double the amount of homeless who come from the district.
Laufer told locals at the meeting that Borough President Adams plans to host a borough-wide forum on homelessness, which Banks is expected to attend.
“I’ll let you know when that happens so we can bring our pitchforks and torches,” Laufer said.
The homeless services agency did not respond to a request for comment by press time.