Homeless Help Wanted

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The Department of Homeless Services has been using Brooklyn homeless shelter residents to supplement the work of unionized data-entry workers–an apparent breach of the mayor’s promise not to give city jobs to sub-minimum-wage workers.

City Limits learned in August that residents from a program at Greenpoint’s Barbara Kleiman Residence work at the DHS main office. They input confidential information about fellow shelter dwellers–possibly including their HIV status.

“It’s poor practice to have people not part of the agency have access to confidential files,” says one DHS official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They’re putting in dates of birth, Social Security numbers, new addresses. If the person is moving to [a facility run by the nonprofit] Housing Works, then they know the person is HIV-positive.”

The DHS official said that between six and eight of the shelter residents work alongside union employees, performing identical tasks and being paid only a small stipend.

Mayor Giuliani has vowed repeatedly that the city’s access to cheap labor through the similar Work Experience Program wouldn’t jeopardize regular city jobs. DHS did not return calls for comment.

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

Since the shelter residents’ labor is part of a substance abuse recovery program, the low pay may be justified, explains David Greenberg of the Coalition for the Homeless’ advocacy department. However, he says that having residents work in agency headquarters is unusual.

“Certainly, you see DHS cut back on workers in the shelters,” Greenberg says, “but making it up in the main offices, that’s spooky.”