HOMELESS SHELTER “SNAKE PIT”: BACK TO THE ARMORY FLOOR

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The Pataki administration will soon announce it has eliminated a 1993 regulation that prevented the city from sheltering as many as 1,000 homeless men on armory drill floors, according to Albany sources.

For four years, the state has capped at 200 the number of men and women allowed to sleep in large, dormitory-style homeless shelters. Revised rules due out as early as Wednesday would clip the cap while also eliminating many state health, safety and fire regulations for the shelters, leaving most enforcement of building codes to city agencies.

“It proves we learn nothing from history,” said Doug Lasdon of the Urban Justice Center, whose lawsuit against the city five years ago led to imposition of the regulation. “It’s outrageous. During the 1980s, we had 800 to 1,000 men in the Fort Washington Armory sleeping three feet apart from each other. It was as bad as any snake pit.”

The rollback means the state will no longer enforce fire codes that define the number of fire exits and require smoke-tight walls; health codes that prevent breeding of rats and other vermin; and other safety guidelines.

“They are doing this at the request of the city,” said David Greenberg of the Coalition for the Homeless. “The commissioner of homeless services is conspiring with the state to create a new system of warehouses for people.”

Susan Wiviott, spokesperson for the city’s Department of Homeless Services (DHS), said the regulatory change is welcome and will allow the agency greater flexibility. She said city agencies will continue to enforce necessary building codes.

“We are not planning on making the shelters larger again,” she added.

“If that’s the case, then DHS should be behind the current regulations,” responded Lasdon.

On Thursday, the City Council’s General Welfare Committee will hold a hearing on a bill that would replace state regulations with a strict city law requiring the mayor to limit most shelters to 200 beds. The bill would also require DHS to provide frequent reports on fire, health and safety code compliance.