Locals Testify Against Shelter at Contract Hearing

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Rockaway is not letting the proposed homeless shelter for 226 Beach 101st Street go through without a fight. A select few locals have gone above and beyond in the shelter protest by bringing solid facts and findings to a public contract hearing for the shelter.

On September 12, a team including local resident Torey Schnupp, CPA Sarah Kenny, lawyer Mike Scala and lawyer Erik Palatnik made the trip to 1 Centre Street in Manhattan to testify against a proposed contract between the NYC Department of Homeless Services (DHS) and provider, Black Veterans for Social Justice (BVSJ), for the Beach 101st property that has been undergoing renovations by property owner, Liberty One Group.

On August 30, a not-so-public announcement was made about a contract hearing for the Rockaway shelter on Thursday, September 12. The proposed contract for BVSJ to operate the shelter for 120 single men comes with a price tag of $40,780,555 for a period from September 1, 2019 to June 30, 2024, with one four-year option to renew from July 1, 2024 to June 30, 2028. Breaking this down, those from Rockaway Solutions Not Shelters, a local group against the shelter, found this to mean that it would cost $71,500 to house each man per year at the converted warehouse. And that hefty price-tag, which is higher than the average median income for Rockaway residents, is just one of many reasons the group used to testify against the contract and ask that it not be signed.

According to Schnupp, there were hearings for two other shelters in Brooklyn that day, which no one showed up to testify for or against. It is believed there was low attendance due to many not knowing about the hearing in the first place. Schnupp says she felt fortunate to be given a heads up about the hearing from Robby Schwach of Councilman Eric Ulrich’s office, who caught wind of the notice on the City Record. With limited time, Schnupp and the others were able to come up with well-thought out testimonies that they presented to representatives from DHS, the Mayor’s Office, HPD and others at the hearing on September 12.

Schnupp cited several reasons against the shelter being placed in Rockaway, including how Rockaway has already seen its fair share of supporting the less fortunate with 6,000 residential beds and 8,000 units of public housing in a community that has one hospital with a failing grade, in a borough with the highest unemployment rate, and some of the worst transportation options in the city. She also pointed out how the shelter would be placed near eight schools and how students utilize Beach 101st to walk to nearby mass transit options. The cost itself was another major red flag for Schnupp, saying “$71,500 per man, per year is more than the average income of local residents. That’s roughly $6,000 a month to be warehoused and turned loose during the day. It's both reckless and destabilizing to the homeless men and the neighborhood.”

In her testimony, Kenny took a hit at some inconsistencies with BVSJ’s past financials. From an audited financial statement form 2016, Kenny found that the organization received grants from the city which totaled $7.3 million. “The biggest program expense, at $5.5 million is housing services. More than $4 million of this went to salaries, fringe benefits, automobile expenses, travel, office supplies and administrative overhead,” Kenny said. But that wasn’t all she found. “The audited financial statements show that BVSJ has made advances of granted funds to several for-profit affiliated entities that it owns,” she said. “Management opted to not include the results of these affiliates in a consolidated set of financial statements, even though it is the sole shareholder and consolidation is required by generally accepted accounting principles in the US.”

Attorney Mike Scala took a legal approach to his testimony, expressing concerns that the contract could violate some state laws, and that the cost per man and some changes made to the contract, have raised some red flags that this proposed shelter may actually be made for a mentally disabled population.

“I reviewed the contract and mental health services are mentioned numerous times. If this facility is not handling a mentally disabled population, why would these services be added to the contract? The contract for 120 single men is at $8.5 million per year. The same provider has operated the Pamoja House shelter for 200 single men for as low as $4 million. Is there a reason this contract is substantially inflated? Or will the nature of the population be different? The cost to house a homeless person with a serious mental illness is around $58K a year. For a non-mentally disabled person, it should be about $35K a year. The breakdown of this contract come to approximately $71,500 per person, more than doubling the estimate for a non-mentally disabled individual,” Scala found.

He also found that if the shelter is indeed for the mentally disabled, it would be in violation of state laws. “While we understand the population of this facility would be 120 single men, the mental health status of these individuals is legally significant,” Scala said. “Under §31.23 of the state Mental Hygiene Law, a community residence for the mentally disabled requires approval of the commissioner of mental health. Further, 14 N.Y.C.R.R. §595.5(b) provides that such approval cannot be granted if more than 48 congregate beds are located on the premises. Therefore, it is critical to determine whether this facility would house mentally ill men.”

At the end of their testimonies, the group asked that the contract not be approved.

The respective agencies represented at the hearing will now have an opportunity to vote on the contract. The contract will then head to Comptroller Scott Stringer who will have the ability to approve or deny it. Rockaway Solutions Not Shelters is hoping that the contract not only be rejected, but that Stringer takes it a step further by investigating BVSJ, Liberty One Group and DHS.

Rockaway Solutions Not Shelters reiterates their message that while they understand the plight of the homeless and they’re not against the city having a comprehensive program to care for them, the group believes there needs to be better oversight of shelter developers they say are lining their pockets with taxpayer funds, the not-for-profits that are created simply to run the sites, and the DHS, whose leaders they allege tend to approve anything that crosses their desks.

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