It’s not easy to read the list of what New York comptroller’s auditors have found in and around cribs in homeless shelters. Mold and damp in the rooms, sharp edges, broken windows, dangerous substances within the reach of babies, cockroaches and even mouse feces inside the crib.
“That means that not only were these feces in the crib while the child could be asleep, but the rodents could, in fact, be close to the baby,” lamented the controller, Scott Stringer. The comptroller said when presenting the audit report on Monday that of all the investigations that his office has done since 2014 (when he took charge of it) what he found in this is “the most embarrassing and disturbing.”
“Babies are the most vulnerable and precious, they completely trust adults to protect and take care of them, there are babies in shelters that are less than one year old,” explained Stringer, who detailed the failures in 13 shelters detected from December 2019 to March 2020.
The deficiencies in the shelters visited at random present problems for health and safety in all of them and in 92% of the units visited. In 32 of these units in 11 shelters, in fact, the situation was much worse as more than four dangerous or unhealthy situations were observed.
“In one case,” Stringer detailed yesterday, “a shelter inspected by one of the auditors did not have heating when the visit was made in winter. The heater had an infestation of cockroaches and the family put plastic on the window to protect themselves from the cold air.
“It is a stain on the city’s record that the babies we care for are sleeping near insects, breathing mold and playing near electrical outlets,” the comptroller denounced.
Another disturbing aspect of the audit is the revelation that operators who do not comply with safety and hygiene measures do not face, “apparently consequences”. Five of the 13 shelters in the audit example received the green light to continue contracting with the city despite receiving poor evaluations from the Department of Homeless Services (DHS).
This municipal department managed two of its own shelters and supervises 155 of operators that are non-profit organizations. Shelters are services provided to the homeless until they find one. DHS reports that approximately 50 children in the city die from preventable causes including accidents during sleep, which is why they participate with the Administration of Children’s Services and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in an initiative to give an instruction guide on the safe sleep for children.
DHS requires families to watch a video about sleep safety within 48 hours of arriving at the shelter and approve or reject their own cribs in addition to doing weekly inspections.
Stringer said that “these conditions cannot be tolerated for another second and DHS has to investigate the unacceptable conditions in the 13 shelters investigated.”
This department says they disagree with the inspection methodology and among other things they explain that it has been recognized that many of the audited providers have a good report and that sleep problems are not exclusive to a certain social group and it is requested that residents of these shelters are not stigmatized.
Despite objections, he agrees to, Stringer’s office maintains the details of what was found. DHS nevertheless accepts a good part of the 10 recommendations made by the comptroller and which begin by asking this department to ensure that shelter providers urgently inspect and correct the defects found in those identified by the audit.
Stringer also wants written policies and procedures to be updated and enforced each time a family is rehoused as well as ensuring that the safe sleep video is shown to all families with babies, such as and how it is prescribed to be done.
The comptroller’s office asks that weekly inspections be ensured and documented in such a way that deficiencies that they find can be corrected. In any case, Stringer’s office believes that policies should be established to comply with security policies for the little ones and comply with the consequences in case they are not.
25,661 Families lived in city shelters operated by DHS in 2019. There were a total of 46,454 children in those families, 4,824 of them infants.
50 children roughly die of preventable injuries during sleep
11 of shelters do not have receipts for 44% of weekly inspections in 86 units where safety measures are not observed.
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