DHS Commissioner Gilbert Taylor
Amid growing tensions in communities slated for new homeless shelters and transitional housing facilities, Department of Homeless Services (DHS) Commissioner Gilbert Taylor reached out to the Glendale Register last week to discuss the severity of the homelessness issue and discuss the proposed shelter on Cooper Avenue.
The site was proposed to DHS by Samaritan Village and would be specifically tailored for homeless families by including kitchens, recreational facilities and social services, especially as they relate to youth.
According to Taylor, the Glendale shelter would be built to meet DHS's specifications for housing homeless families, unlike the emergency shelters that have recently opened in the borough, such as the one at the Pan Am Motor Inn on Queens Boulevard.
The commissioner, flanked by a few staffers, was clear to point out that it is not unusual for neighborhoods to be opposed to a shelter. But with nearly 57,000 homeless now living in the five boroughs – a 40 percent increase over the past four years - Taylor said the department’s central focus is finding a bed for every man, woman and child.
“The city is facing a record number of homeless families and adults requesting shelter,” Taylor said. “As an agency, it is our mission and responsibility to provide shelter and related services to anyone in need.
“We hope that New Yorkers will find it in themselves to embrace these families with children in their communities as we help them get back on their feet,” Taylor added.
Since 2004, the agency has focused their efforts on helping families, which make up 70 percent of the city's homeless population, from ever entering the homeless population through programs like HomeBase, neighborhood outreach offices to aid those on the brink of losing their home.
Currently 14 sites across the five boroughs have served nearly 65,000 families and individuals since they opened with family mediation services, household budgeting, rental assistance, and job training. The department hopes to open even more in areas with families that are at high risk of becoming homeless.
The city is also assisting those who have been in the shelter system the longest with rental assistance through its LINC program. LINC is a rental subsidy for families that are unable to afford stable housing, requiring recipients to remain working and contributing a set amount of their income towards rent.
With the growth of these services and additional permanent shelter sites, like the one slated for the site at 78-16 Cooper Avenue in Glendale, Taylor said it would reduce the need for emergency shelters like the Pan Am, which don't meet the department's guidelines.
According to a representative at DHS, the city continuously reevaluates the need for these sites and will often close and readjust depending on current homeless population statistics.
Taylor worked with the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) as the executive deputy commissioner in the Division of Child Protection before taking over at DHS eight months ago.
At ACS, Taylor played an integral role in starting Childstat, a tool that monitors child protective casework and performance data from families that have been subject to abuse.
The commissioner admitted that outreach about new shelters needs to be better, and the department recently amended its guidelines to ensure better notice of proposed shelters is given to local elected officials and community boards. He said he hopes to work with communities to create a comprehensive approach to housing the homeless.
Dawn Scala, a Glendale resident who has been fighting the shelter since a controversial environmental assessment of the Cooper Avenue site, has a different impression of the process so far, but hopes Taylor is serious about outreach.
“Samaritan Village has no intention of talking to the community, they have to be forced to do it,” she said. “If they are the operators picked by DHS, then DHS has to hold Samaritan to the fire.”