Helter Shelter: Internal reports reveal harrowing violence at NYC homeless shelters

The city’s homeless shelters are so out of control that terrified residents say they’d be safer on the subway — or even in jail.

City records obtained by The Post documented nearly two dozen incidents of violence and other outrageous behavior over the course of a week in mid-September – the same period a despondent migrant mother hanged herself at one of the taxpayer-funded establishments.

The horrors included bloody beatings, unprovoked attacks, vicious domestic violence and meaningless fights – several of which sent victims to hospital for treatment for their injuries.

“I was shouted at, threatened,” said Dominic, 30, an ex-con who lives at the infamous Bellevue Men’s Shelter in Manhattan. “I spent five years at Sing Sing and felt safer there than here. I feel safer on the subway.

Residents of homeless shelters say they would be safer on the subway or in jail.
Paul Martinca

Another resident, Kenneth Foster, 34, told the Post, “It’s like the zoo is letting the animals out of their cages.”

“Two nights ago, a guy showed me a knife… He was like, ‘Fk with me and I fk with you’, and I was like, ‘I don’t fuck with you’ and we were cool, but that’s how it is here,” he added.

“The only good thing about this place is the next door to the hospital so if I have a knife in my back I can just walk to the ER.”

The Post used the city’s Freedom of Information Act to obtain 424 pages of official reports on 273 “critical incidents” that occurred between September 16 and September 21.

On September 18, in the middle of this period, a 32-year-old migrant woman was found by one of her two children hanging from a shower rod by an electrical cord in the Hollis Family Shelter in Queens.

Incidents that have been deemed a threat to “the safety and well-being of shelter residents and/or staff” include:

  • A man attacked in his sleep and found with a bloody nose inside the Holiday Inn Express shelter at 153-70 South Conduit Avenue, Queens, around 11:50 p.m. on September 17. The alleged assailant resisted arrest when cops arrived and was only subdued after being Tased twice.
  • A woman said she was threatened with a knife by a resident of the Women’s Center at 427 W. 52nd St. in Manhattan when a fight broke out during a fire drill around 11 a.m. on September 19. The woman who allegedly wielded the knife was arrested after acting “aggressive towards staff and officers” who responded.
  • Surveillance cameras caught two staff members fighting inside the shelter at 1851 Phelan Place in the Bronx around 8:30 a.m. on September 21. – threatened him with a knife before hitting him with a “wet floor” sign.
  • Staff members broke into a room at a Bronx shelter and found a woman holding her son as they were beaten by his partner around 5:50 p.m. on September 16. The attacker fled, leaving the woman with a swollen face and the boy with a bruised forehead.
  • Two residents of 316 Beach 65th Street in Far Rockaway, Queens, were arrested after a fight broke out around 12:15 a.m. on September 20 when one man accused the other of urinating and defecating on their bathroom floor common bathroom.

A man who lives at the Queens shelter where the resident was attacked in his sleep said he remembered the incident.

Vincent, 40, added that he also left the shelter last year after the same thing happened to him.

“I was sleeping and my roommate assaulted me. Nothing was done about it and I felt safer on the street,” he said. “I left because they weren’t helping me. I stayed on the streets for a year.

Vincent complained that the establishment was understaffed and that there was “not enough security”.

Leydy Paola Martinez-Villalobos.
On September 18, a 32-year-old migrant was found by one of her two children hanging from a shower rod by an electrical cord at the Hollis Family Shelter in Queens.

“Every night f-king EMS is here. It’s either a fight or people overdosing,” he said.

A security guard at the shelter declined to comment or take a message for the person responsible.

“I don’t even know who the management is here. I just started last week so I don’t know a lot of people,” the guard said.

The chairman of the city council’s general welfare committee, which oversees the homeless services department, told the Post that the reports documented a “horrendous situation.”

“It’s pretty much in line with what we’re hearing from people, especially people who live on the streets, that the shelter system isn’t safe enough for them,” said council member Diana Ayala ( D-Upper Manhattan, The Bronx).

In a statement, the Department of Social Services defended its efforts to “provide adequate security throughout the shelter system,” saying it “continues to strengthen our reporting mechanisms to capture all cases that may impact on the well-being of our customers”.

The department added, “Overly simplistic and misleading assumptions about the shelter system based on a week of incident reports misrepresent the actual work and system improvements that are happening in the field.”

Despite the ministry’s claims, statistics show that violence and death in shelters is becoming more common, not less.

NY1 recently reported that the number of deceased shelter residents across the city increased by 58% between 2019 and 2021, while records also showed an increase in the number of fights, sexual offenses and drug overdoses in the shelters for single adults.

The Hollis family hideaway.
The number of deceased shelter residents increased by 58% between 2019 and 2021.
Matthew McDermott

The mayor’s Sept. 8 management report also cited an “unspecified increase in fights/disputes as well as drug-related incidents, including overdoses, consistent with citywide and national trends” over the course of of the fiscal year that ended in June, compared to the same period. in 2020-21.

Shelly Nortz, deputy executive director for policy at the Homeless Coalition, said the “best solution” would be to provide people with “a secure, private room with quick access to affordable permanent housing”.

“The overcrowding of people in gathering places for long periods during a pandemic – often with shared bathrooms, little storage and unappetizing food – can only heighten tensions in local shelters,” said she added.

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or experiencing a mental health crisis and live in New York City, you can call 1-888-NYC-WELL for free, confidential crisis counseling. If you live outside the five boroughs, you can call the national suicide prevention hotline 24/7 at 988 or go to SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.

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