NEW YORK (AP) -- New York City investigators say decrepit and dangerous conditions and poor enforcement have been rampant in shelters that house nearly 12,000 homeless families with children.
The Department of Investigation released a report Thursday on the city-paid, largely privately run family shelter system. The system costs the city Department of Homeless Services about $360 million a year.
Investigators say one family of six was living with a dead rat festering on the floor for two days. At another shelter, a puddle of urine soiled the floor of the only working elevator. And at another, one stairway was so treacherously rusted that inspectors ordered guards to block access to it.
"At its worst, DHS is turning a blind eye to violations that threaten the lives of shelter residents," the report said, calling for repairs, stiffer inspections and new mechanisms to compel fixes.
The homeless services agency said it had already removed some unacceptable apartments from the system, stepped up inspections and asked for money to hire 19 new inspection staffers, among other steps. The agency said it had closed two problematic shelters and fixed more than half the over 600 building and fire code violations the report identified.
"We will use the report's recommendations to further inform our system-wide reform work," Homeless Services Commissioner Gilbert Taylor said in a statement Thursday.
While that's progress, "much work still needs to be done," Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark G. Peters said in a statement.
New York City is legally obligated to provide shelter to all homeless people and has long grappled with how to house them. The problem has grown more acute as the numbers of people seeking shelter rose from an average of about 39,000 a night in the start of 2010 to over 60,000 this past November, according to the most recent data the nonprofit Coalition for the Homeless has gathered from city agencies.