The state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) needs to improve its oversight of local departments of social services and homeless shelter providers to make sure those entering the shelters are being set up with a plan to get the services they need and transition to permanent housing, according to an audit released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
“Thousands of New Yorkers, many of them in need of mental health care or drug addiction services, are in desperate need of permanent housing and other support,” DiNapoli said. “My auditors, however, found as we have in previous audits, the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance is not doing enough to ensure local social service offices and other providers are providing them with the services they require when they enter homeless shelters. I urge the office to better use its oversight powers to help this vulnerable population get back on their feet.”
Homeless shelters across the state provide various services to individuals and families, including case management, access to health care, treatment for substance abuse, childcare services and assistance with finding permanent housing. Local departments of social services (Local Districts) administer homeless services by either operating shelters directly or contracting with third-party providers. OTDA’s role is to provide oversight of the Local Districts and other providers.
The state has a network of 625 homeless shelters. State reimbursements to Local Districts ranged from $1.9 to $2.1 billion per year from 2018 to 2022.
Each client who enters a shelter must take part in a needs assessment and the development of an Individual Living Plan (ILP), administered by the Local District or a third-party provider. The assessment, an evaluation of the client’s housing and care needs, is supposed to begin within one business day of admission and be completed as soon as possible.
Once a client completes the assessment, the ILP is developed to set a strategy to help them return to self-sufficiency. The ILP is supposed to be completed within the first 10 days of admission to a shelter.
DiNapoli’s auditors found from January 2018 to October 2022, assessments were either missing or late 40% of the time, and ILPs were either missing or late 38% of the time. This impacts when clients begin to receive services and support. While OTDA officials cited COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and staffing shortages as the cause for timeliness problems, the majority of the cases sampled (63%) had intake dates prior to the pandemic, and late or missing assessments and ILPs have been an issue for more than seven years as cited in prior audit reports.
For a sample of 145 client cases, auditors found no evidence that support services listed in the ILPs were delivered to many, as follows:
- Six of 13 cases requiring substance abuse services (46%).
- Five of 19 cases requiring mental health services (26%).
- Two of 13 cases requiring multiple services (e.g., mental health and substance abuse) (15%).
Auditors found 70% of those cases (101 clients) did not leave the shelter and find permanent housing as follows:
- Sixty-two clients left the shelter system, and their current location was unknown (43%).
- Nineteen clients were still residing in a shelter for periods ranging from 68 to 1,507 days, or over four years (13%).
- Eight clients were denied housing as they didn’t comply with program requirements (6%).
- Five clients were removed from the shelter due to behavioral issues (3%).
- Four clients were incarcerated (3%).
- Two clients moved out of their Local District (1%).
- One client died (1%).
DiNapoli made several recommendations to OTDA, including:
- Work with Local Districts and shelter providers identified through annual inspections that have not prepared or have late or incomplete assessments and ILPs;
- Reassess the oversight processes and develop new methods to supplement the annual inspections to identify Local Districts and shelter providers that have not prepared or have late or incomplete assessments and ILPs; and
- Collect and analyze aggregate data that will allow the office to identify primary causes for clients not achieving permanent housing and address these issues.
While OTDA generally agreed with the audit’s findings, officials noted that they have processes in place to address the recommendations. However, as cited in the audit report, missing or late assessments and ILPs have nearly doubled since identified in prior audit reports issued in 2016 and 2020. Their complete response is included in the report.