While City’s Shelters in Disrepair, Department of Homeless Services Blew Money on Fancy Garbage

homeless shelter in crown heights (photo: google street view)
homeless shelter in crown heights (photo: google street view)

The only time I’ve ever come close to a 3D-television, I couldn’t enjoy the experience because I was too busy trying to scrape my jaw off the floor, where it had been since I first attempted to comprehend why anyone would ever spend that much money on what’s effectively a stupid fat-making box. But even putting aside my anti-TV bias, trying to figure out how the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) could possibly justify buying two 3D-TVs, which DNAinfo found cost “$3,297.99 each after a $500 factory rebate, according to the receipt,” in addition to a bunch of other fancy office updates is confounding. This is, after all, the New York City agency that supervises dozens of shelters deemed replete with “serious deficiencies” by the Department of Investigation. And they’re buying fancy TVs? Hm.

In fact, the timing couldn’t be worse for DHS to perform a makeover to the tune of $600,000 on the agency’s Lower Manhattan headquarters. The agency, which is responsible for providing services to the city’s 12,000 homeless families and record number of more than 57,000 homeless individuals, has experienced intense scrutiny in recent years.

In December 2013 there was a scathing investigative report published in the New York Times that detailed corrupt DHS employees, crumbling infrastructure, and the unique challenges facing homeless children. And in early March of this year, the Department of Investigation released a report detailing systemic failures and targeting 25 shelters operated by the agency that “exposed residents to serious health and safety violations” as well as “dangerous living conditions, rat-and-roach infested residences, and fire violations.” The report concluded that DHS “at its worst, […] is turning a blind eye to violations that threaten the lives of shelter residents.”

It’s hard to imagine the concerns of a city agency’s office posed a greater immediate risk to the wellbeing of at-risk individuals than the persistently awful conditions of the city’s shelters. And yet last summer (as DNAinfo points out, when the city’s homeless population reached an “all-time high”) DHS went ahead with the renovations which brought in $429 chairs, iPads, and new paint jobs in addition to a fleet of televisions. To the DHS’s credit, not every TV purchased was a 3D one. So.


  1. This article shows a lack of understanding of what it takes to run this city’s shelter system and suggests that DHS staff are living the high life at the expense of shelter residents. I have worked with DHS, and denigrating their staff–who in my experience work very hard on an exceptionally complicated set of issues–is grossly unfair. So why not dig a little instead of jumping to conclusions:

    1. DHS conducts training for hundreds if not thousands of staff each year so they can do their jobs better, and having a good training equipment–like 75″ televisions that everyone in a training room can actually see–is important.
    2. The agency conducts field investigations. Ipads can help investigators complete their work more quickly, helping families and saving the city money.
    3. Appropriate seating–often mandated in collective bargaining agreements–prevents work injuries, helps retain good staff, and saves money.
    4. DHS has a $1.8 billion budget–and this article focuses on .00003% of that budget. And yes, painting seven floors of office walls costs thousands of dollars.

    This article is beneath the standards of Brooklyn Magazine.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here