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Homeless families entering the shelter system for the first time can expect a shorter wait and more humane care than in the past, according to the Department of Homeless Services. On Thursday, DHS Commissioner Linda Gibbs led reporters on a tour of the new Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing Office to show just how different the PATH is from its predecessor, the infamous Emergency Assistance Unit (EAU). The building is still institutional at best, with bland hospital-like corridors and blue plastic chairs, but its set-up reflects a new emphasis on customer service. The city has shortened the application time from an average of 19 hours to 7, and an assigned staffer helps guide clients through the process. While only half of families that apply are found eligible for shelter (roughly the same proportion as at the EAU), those who are eligible are more likely to be accepted the first time they apply. An effort is made to keep families in their home boroughs and, if possible, to keep children in their school districts. In order to close down the EAU, however, the city needs a way to weed out families who are repeatedly found ineligible for shelter. Last week, it asked Judge Helen Freedman for permission to turn away families who reapply within 90 days unless they are in immediate danger or can prove significant changes to their cases. The request is part of the agency’s larger effort to end decades of court oversight. (C. Feldman)

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