City Department Of Homeless Services Denies Shelter To Homeless Families In Sub-Freezing Weather
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2013

A Daily News report reveals that the City's Department of Homeless Services has denied shelter to families in sub-freezing weather. Previously, such shelter denials for families had been suspended when the temperature fell below 32 degrees. The Daily News story recounted how a family was turned away when it was 13 degrees outside until Cristina Schrum-Herrera, a paralegal in The Legal Aid Society's Homeless Rights Project, intervened on the family's behalf with the City and the decision was reversed. Ms. Schrum-Herrera expressed concern to the Daily News that The Legal Aid Society cannot assist every family in these desperate circumstances.

 

The city's 'code blue' policy that provides shelter for people when temperatures dip below freezing is leaving families out in the cold
Homeless advocates claim the Bloomberg administration and the Department of Homeless Services have been turning away families who can't prove they have nowhere else to go
By Tina Moore
New York Daily News
February 16, 2013

Families seeking refuge on frigid winter nights were once guaranteed a place in the city’s shelters.

Not anymore.

Homeless advocates and elected officials are accusing the Bloomberg administration of turning families away from shelter when the temperature plunges below freezing.

Take Junior Clarke, 23, and his family. The dad said city workers told him to leave the Bronx PATH Center — an intake hub for families — during a cold snap last month.

“They tried to send us outside into the cold,” said Clarke, 23, who was with his his wife, Kaneesha, 23, and 4-year-old daughter, Janiah. “They threatened to have us thrown out by police.”

The city historically invoked “code blue” status when the temperature dipped below freezing, easing shelter restrictions to get people indoors.

It’s not clear when, exactly, the city altered its policy and started enforcing rules requiring some shelter residents to prove they have nowhere else to go — even on cold winter nights.

Homeless advocates first noticed the policy change this winter due to the long stretch of bitter cold.

Department of Homeless Services spokeswoman Barbara Brancaccio refused to answer questions about when the policy changed — or why. She failed to return multiple phone calls made over a week and refused to grant an interview with Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond, who did not respond to emailed questions.

Instead, Brancaccio sent a vague statement that said all families applying for shelter for the first time are given a bed — but returning families have to meet city criteria. “For reapplications, we take into account weather conditions, and we work to ensure that applicants who have alternate living situations do not take up beds that are needed by those who truly have no recourse,” Brancaccio’s statement said.

Asked for clarification, she sent the statement again.

The Clarkes were considered reapplicants when they showed up at the center Jan. 22. They stayed in shelter for 10 days in 2008 after being thrown out of his mother-in-law’s Suffolk County home, Junior Clarke said. The family had returned to the center because they were kicked out of a rented room after falling behind on rent, Clarke said. He lost his job as an EMT in December.

At PATH, shelter workers told him to go back to his mother-in-law’s house. Clarke told them the family wasn’t welcome.

“They tried to make us leave and we refused,” Clarke said. “You know some people leave, walk away and go sleep on the train with their families.”

The temperature dropped to a low of 13 degrees that day, according to AccuWeather.com.

Clarke, who grew up in Queens, reached out to The Legal Aid Society and paralegal Christina Schrum-Herrera convinced intake workers to give the family a place to stay for the night.

“How many families did we not intervene for?” Schrum-Herrera asked. “There are a lot more families who weren’t placed because the city no longer has the code blue policy.”

The change also got the attention of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Councilwoman Annabel Palma (D-Bronx) who sent a letter to Diamond last month. “We are deeply concerned about DHS’ current practice of denying some families overnight placement during extreme weather,” they wrote.

Patrick Markee, senior policy analyst with the Coalition for the Homeless, said his agency began noticing that families were being turned away this year. He said the city was evasive with his agency but eventually acknowledged the code blue policy was changed last winter. “The fact that city officials refuse to admit they changed their ‘code blue’ policy for families seeking shelter only underlines how misguided and dangerous it is to turn children and parents into the streets on freezing cold nights,” Markee said.

Jacqueline Barnett, 45, said she was also turned away on Jan. 22 when she and her 3-year-old daughter, Jeanai, showed up at the Bronx center.

Barnett, who said it was too cold to leave with her daughter, called the coalition for help and was placed in a Sheepshead Bay shelter. “It is really, really shameful that they would turn people away,” she said. “Even a dog is due respect.”