City officials say the privatization of 1,000 Department of Homeless Services (DHS) jobs won’t have an effect on their clients and that nonprofit-run shelters will pick up the slack. But City Limits has learned that the city plans to scale back key agency functions–and eliminate 105 social worker positions.
Starting July 1, DHS will cut the number of workers who run the homeless hotline. They will also axe staffers who refer the homeless to shelters and help new arrivals adjust to the system.
In addition, the agency will jettison its Family Hotel program, which creates a support system for families who are temporarily lodged in hotels pending their approval for long-term shelter referrals. The program aids families in putting together the paperwork needed to establish eligibility. Social workers also help families find food, get public assistance and enter the shelter system.
“The city has cast the issue as contracting out nonprofits,” said Steven Banks, coordinating attorney for Legal Aid’s homeless rights project. “But by this point the issue is eliminating the functions.” Banks says the loss of the workers may make it harder for homeless families to file successful shelter applications. “It functions to eliminate access to the shelter system,” he added.
Without these services, advocates say, the number of vacancies in city-funded shelters will continue to rise. “The significant vacancies that exist will continue, not because there aren’t enough people who need services, but because they are denied eligibility,” explained Fred Shack, president of the Tier Two Coalition, a 45-member group the city’s nonprofit-run shelters.
Repeated calls to DHS were not returned. But in The New York Times, agency spokesperson Susan Wiviott said the privatization plan reflects the agency’s transition from a direct service provider to its more supervisory role in overseeing the performance of nonprofits. “Our function has changed and it requires a very different staffing level,” Wiviott said.
In the face of these changes, the Social Services Employees Union Local 371, which represents the city workers soon to be laid off, plans to launch a counterattack. “These [homeless families have] young children, no where to go, clothes in a bag,” says Linda Schlicher, director of policy at the union. “These cuts are a way to have a painful process in the hope that people will disappear.”
About 900 other DHS job slots are being eliminated but will be replaced by contractors, according to Schlicter.