SHELTER RESIDENTS PERFORM UNION JOBS AT HOMELESS AGENCY

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The city has been using Brooklyn homeless shelter residents to supplement unionized data-entry workers–an apparent breach of the mayor’s promise not to use benefit-dependent workers to take jobs from city employees.

Residents in the substance abuse recovery program at the Barbara Kleiman Residence in Greenpoint have been used to input confidential information about fellow shelter dwellers–including residents’ HIV status–City Limits has learned.

“It’s poor practice to have people not part of the agency have access to confidential files,” says one official with the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), speaking on condition of anonymity. “They’re putting in dates of birth, social security numbers, new addresses. If the person is moving to Housing Works, then they know the person is HIV positive.”

Between six and eight of the recovering substance abusers have been recently deployed at DHS headquarters in lower Manhattan. Participants are paid a small stipend for their work. In similar programs, shelter residents have been paid as little as $12.50 a week for their work.

By contrast, civil service employees make in the mid-$20,000 range, plus benefits. DHS has sustained numerous budget cuts since its creation in 1993. In May, the city announced that it would jettison nearly half of the agency’s staff.

Mayor Rudy Giuliani has repeatedly vowed that the city’s access to cheap labor, such as Work Experience Program workers, wouldn’t jeopardize city jobs. DHS did not return calls by press time.

“The whole theme of the administration is to privatize, downplay, downgrade and have work farmed out,” said John Talbutt, assistant to the president of the Social Services Employees Union, Local 371. “This is directly taking a civil service job.”

As for the shelter residents, the fact that they are paid below minimum wage for their work may be justified because the labor is part of a recovery program and can be considered treatment, said David Greenberg of the Coalition for the Homeless’ advocacy department. However, having residents work in agency headquarters–as opposed to accepting assignments in their home shelters–is unusual. “Certainly, you see DHS cut back on workers in the shelters,” Greenberg said, “but making it up in the main offices, that’s spooky.”