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Testimony Before the New York City Council General Welfare Committee Hearing on Shelter Model Budget, June 21, 2018

June 26, 2018

 

I timed this speech at three minutes and had to shorten it for the two permitted, but the written testimony went on record as follows.  Omitted portions from the oral presentation are italicized.

 

My name is Scott Andrew Hutchins, and I have spent six of my over 14 years in New York living in the New York City shelter system, having earned a master’s degree here in 2005.  As a member of Picture the Homeless’s research committee, I am one of the principal authors of “The Business of Homelessness.”

I was appalled when I discovered the director of the so-called non-profit that ran the shelter where I was living at the time made nearly half a million dollars a year, and that the seven top executives at the organization received about half of the entire city compensation the “charity” receives.  According to the IRS, “Charities may pay reasonable compensation for services provided by officers and staff. In determining reasonable compensation, a charity may wish to rely on the rebuttable presumption test of section 4958 of the Internal Revenue Code and Treasury Regulation section of 53.4958-6.”  It is simply not plausible that running a shelter in which residents live in squalor is reasonably compensated at a rate of half a million dollars, which the U.S. Census Bureau considers to put one in the top 5% of earners in ManhattanIf the “nonprofit” provided people with homes, one might be able to justify such an extreme compensation, but a painful cot, a locker, meager and poor quality food [this portion was moved up to after in squalor”], public restrooms, inept housing specialists, dubious case managers, and poor building upkeep hardly justify such an extreme portion of the resources being used as compensation to executives.  In this case, it was the second highest CEO salary that we found, but executive compensation was in the case of many shelter providers the single largest percentage of where the money went.

At my current shelter, just two days ago, a sprinkler pipe fell down and flooded the case managers’ office, dousing much of the paper documentation.  I told the Department of Buildings, and they told me that they were familiar with the building’s many code violations, but said that they would forward my message to DHS because, they said, DHS owns the building (and apparently not the nonprofit).  As with most of the eight shelters in which I have stayed, mice and cockroaches are a common sight, and someone else in my room said he often sees rats near the radiator.  Even the hotel shelter I was in previous to this one had the bathroom floor cave in (we had to use the employee restroom, which wasn’t anything special, for the next six days) and collapsed drywall behind the wallpaper.

Most of the shelters have job specialists, but I have yet to meet one with the competence to help someone with high education and medical challenges that make the low wage physical labor that they know how to get people untenable, and most “housing specialists” are completely oblivious to the daily reality of source of income discrimination, suggesting that the word “specialist” is being very loosely applied.

This shows that far more oversight as to how shelter contracts are written is necessary.  As it stands, the money is effectively being given away and raided by a few executives, while crumbs go to the intended effects that keep the shelters unlivable.  The service providers clearly do not know how to properly use city funds, and need to have their discretionary spending severely curbed until they can demonstrate that they can properly prioritize their resources.  It is hypocritical that shelter providers have so few restrictions while shelter residents and public assistance recipients have so many.

 

 

Many of the people who testified before me were service providers complaining that their social workers were being compensated at only $30,000 a year and benefits at 26%.  I wish I had had that at any point in my life.  I was told that their faces were stunned when I told them how much their capitalist masters were stealing from them.  I was trying my best to look up from the paper enough to not be boring while not being told to stop my testimony to look at anyone except brief glances at the committee.  The source of our data for anyone who doubts what I say is true is NYC Checkbook and the New York City Independent Budget Office.

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