Even as it struggles to find housing for more than 8,000 homeless families who turn up at the Emergency Assistance Unit each day, the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) is on the verge of losing its senior family services administrators and numerous homeless hotel workers.
Dennis Piervicenti, eight-year deputy commissioner for family services, and his second-in-command, Marty Ackerman, assistant commissioner for contracts and rehousing, both plan to retire this fall. How could they not? In July, Mayor Bloomberg offered all veteran city employees a retirement package that includes a buyout of one month’s pay for every year worked.
Piervicenti and Ackerman are not the only staff of the homeless agency accepting the city’s offer. About 85 of DHS’s 2,100 employees have said they plan to cash out sometime this fall. Among the homelessness programs likely to be hit the hardest: the unit overseeing about 40 hotels housing homeless families. The Family Hotels Program is said to be losing about nine out of its roughly three dozen city workers, including its director, Senora Selsuy.
While DHS is currently conducting a search to replace the departing executives, it’s not yet clear how many of the other soon-to-be-vacant positions will be refilled. “We’re talking about people who do everything from serve food to cleaning and crowd control,” said John Talbutt, assistant to the president of Local 371, which represents many of the social workers who staff the city’s shelters and hotels. About 60 members there are reportedly taking the buy-out.
As Mayor Bloomberg looks to his agencies to make another 7.5 percent cut in their budgets by this fall, DHS will likely not be the only agency to see a personnel cut. “If personnel cuts are not smart and shrewdly made, we have the real possibility of a brain drain,” said Bonnie Brower, executive director of the budget watchdog group City Project.