One in four homeless shelter residents with serious mental illness were placed in city shelters that were not equipped to give them the help they needed, according to a state audit released on Thursday.
The audit issued by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office found that the city’s Department of Homeless Services did a poor job of assessing and meeting the needs of some homeless individuals who suffer from mental illness or substance abuse. The report comes days after Mayor Eric Adams announced a ramp-up of his administration’s efforts to tackle rising homelessness and as he seeks buy-in from Albany to further his plans.
“The Department of Social Services must do a better job helping some of the city’s most vulnerable people,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “DHS’ shortcomings can have serious implications. It’s my hope that DHS uses the audit findings and recommendations to improve its operations.”
Of the 3,022 homeless people diagnosed with serious mental illness, auditors found that 795 individuals were sent to live in shelters that did not have mental health specialists on site, according to the report’s findings. And about half of 1,061 individuals with substance or alcohol abuse issues were placed in shelters that don’t meet their needs.
The audit covered the period from January 2018 through January 2022.
Placing homeless New Yorkers in the right type of shelters could increase the likelihood of finding stable housing and lower the risk of residents harming themselves or others, the audit found.
DHS disagreed with the findings, saying that assessments and shelter placements are “highly complex.”
“While DHS welcomes any audit that helps us improve our services, the state comptroller’s audit draws conclusions without regard to regulations, laws, privacy concerns, or operational constraints we face," said Stephen Witt, a spokesman for the Department of Social Services, which oversees DHS. "Our agency works tirelessly to meet the needs of the city’s most vulnerable individuals and families while strictly adhering to client privacy and managing operational realities. This audit fails to acknowledge these factors and makes dangerous and unfounded assumptions about our clients and services.”
City Hall’s escalation comes as the mayor’s efforts to remove homeless people from streets and subways through encampment sweeps resulted in only 115 out of 2,098 people willing to go into a shelter.
Jacquelyn Simone, director of policy for the advocacy group Coalition for the Homeless, says people with mental illness are languishing in city shelters for well over a year, on average. If the city and state want to help, they should place individuals into permanent supportive housing as quickly as possible with wrap-around services.
“I think that it's somewhat simplistic to say that DHS should just be funneling more people into those facilities without actually assessing the types of services and outcomes for people in those facilities,” Simone said.
This story has been updated to include comment from Stephen Witt, a spokesman for the Department of Social Services.