By Maria Rocha-Buschel
The status of the 30th Street Men’s Shelter, and whether sex offenders are still staying there was one of the main topics discussed at a forum on homelessness, which was attended by over 100 people.
The forum, held at the Epiphany Parish Hall on Tuesday evening, was hosted by City Councilmembers Dan Garodnick and Rosie Mendez. Representatives from the NYPD, the Department of Homeless Services and various non-profit agencies dedicated to assisting the homeless also showed up to discuss street outreach programs and employment resources made available to help homeless people get back on their feet.
Mayor Bill de Blasio recently appointed Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks to do a 90-day review of homeless services throughout the city and Banks was at the forum to focus on specific issues that affect the neighborhood, primarily the 30th Street Men’s Shelter.
According to Banks, there are currently no sex offenders housed at that location. Sex offenders were transferred elsewhere last April amidst neighborhood outrage when a shelter resident was arrested for raping a woman at a nearby bar.
Prior to the forum, neighborhood residents expressed concern to Town & Village that sex offenders were still being housed there. The New York Post reported last Tuesday that the state’s online Sex Offender Registry still showed 35 sex offenders as living at the shelter, which included 11 Level 3 offenders who are considered a high risk of repeat offense and pose a threat to public safety. When Town & Village searched the database this past Tuesday, there were 21 sex offenders listed at the shelter, with three of those Level 3 offenders.
However, a representative for the Department of Homeless Services also said on Wednesday that there are currently no sex offenders housed at that facility and noted that the state website is not up to date. A representative from New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services said that the information provided on the registry is the most current information available, but did note that the information is dependent on sex offenders updating the address themselves.
“The State Division of Criminal Justice Services, which administers the Registry, notified the NYPD about these offenders on December 28, after being advised they no longer reside at the city shelter,” said a representative for DCJS on Wednesday, after being informed that 17 offenders were still listed as residents of the shelter on the registry. “The NYPD is responsible for ensuring that offenders comply with the law and is tasked with investigating any violations. If the Department of Homeless Services or any other city agency knows of any offenders that wrongly listed their addresses on the registry, they should notify the registry of the case and immediately contact the NYPD for further investigation.”
Despite the differences between the registry and information from DHS, the representative from DHS said that the Commissioner receives a daily report confirming that there are no sex offenders at the 30th Street shelter.
Neighborhood resident Jim Collins raised another issue about individuals at the shelter who have been convicted of other crimes.
“We have a record of sex offenders but how many are paroled violent felony offenders?” he asked.
Aqueelah Winston, who oversees the 30th Street Shelter, said that while individuals are screened to see if they are sex offenders, there is no data on violent offenders.
Another resident at the forum expressed concern about the effectiveness of 311 in regards to reporting incidents concerning homeless people on the street and DHS Assistant Commissioner of Street Homelessness Danielle Minelli Pagnotta said that part of the 90-day review includes getting the response time down to one hour.
The mayor’s office also announced on Wednesday that as part of the 90-day review, the city will be restructuring homeless services to improve the shelter system. One component is phasing out the “cluster” shelter units, which place families in privately-owned buildings in which the city pays the rent, because the policy takes those apartments out of the low rent housing stock. The mayor also announced the launch of HOME-STAT, a street homelessness outreach effort.
Banks also told the crowd that one of the priorities in the review was to add employment services at the shelter.
“We’re focused on improving employment opportunities for people in the shelter system,” he said. “Human Resources Administration is involved and it’s what you would want with their involvement: to have effective employment services and that’s the background I bring. We’re going to convert beds to employment opportunities.”