Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance


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NYS Comptroller


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Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance
New York City Department of Social Services
New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
Oversight of Certified Homeless Shelter Food Services

Issued: October 29, 2018
Link to full audit report 2017-S-53
Link to OTDA 90-day response
Link to DHS 90-day response

To determine whether the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA), New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS), and New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) are adequately monitoring the food services at certified homeless shelters in New York City, and whether the meals served meet State regulations and New York City Food Standards. Our audit covered the period from January 1, 2015 through May 10, 2018.

Shelter operators are required to provide meals that are balanced, nutritious, and adequate in amount to meet the dietary needs of residents. Such meals should be conveniently accessible to residents on a daily basis. To this end, some shelters cook their own food on site while others have their food catered. Regardless of where it is prepared, all food served in New York City shelters must comply with New York City Food Standards (Food Standards), which set minimum nutrition requirements in an effort to reduce the prevalence of chronic disease (such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease). In addition, food should be served in a clean environment by food service workers who are regularly tested for tuberculosis (TB).

OTDA administers New York State’s homeless housing and services programs. OTDA certifies and directly oversees larger-scale shelter facilities (shelters serving ten or more families or 20 or more single adults) and is responsible for inspecting them and ensuring they meet certain standards, as established in the New York Codes, Rules and Regulations (NYCRR). OTDA’s oversight includes ensuring that residents in certified shelters receive adequate food services. DHS, an administrative unit of the New York City Department of Social Services, is responsible for ensuring that homeless shelters in New York City meet certain standards established in the NYCRR and local laws and codes. DOHMH is responsible for protecting and promoting the health of all New York City residents, and inspects and issues permits to food establishments, including shelters that serve food to residents. According to OTDA, there are 158 certified shelters in New York City (94 adult shelters and 64 family shelters). Of these, 100 either cooked food on site or had food catered. Residents cooked their own food at the remaining 58 shelters. During 2017, over 18 million meals were served in both certified and non-certified homeless shelters in New York City.

Key Findings

  • OTDA, DHS, and DOHMH did not provide adequate food services oversight for certified homeless shelters.
  • On average, only 59 percent of the food inspections by the three agencies were completed for the 15 shelters we sampled. DHS only completed 18 percent.
  • Seventy-five of 95 (79 percent) adult shelter food service workers at the 15 shelters we sampled did not comply with State regulations regarding TB testing requirements.
  • Due to insufficient documentation, we have no assurances that the meals were balanced, nutritious, and complied with State regulations and Food Standards.

Key Recommendations

  • Enhance monitoring and oversight of food services by performing inspections in accordance with applicable regulations and policies.
  • Finalize and implement formalized shelter food inspection policies and procedures.
  • Ensure that food service workers remain current with TB testing requirements, where required.
  • Require shelter providers and caterers to submit menus and other supporting documentation that clearly denote nutritional information for all individual food items served, including nutritional fact labels, recipes, and food brand names, in order to properly verify the nutritional content of meals.
  • Ensure that each shelter that serves food has the required food establishment permit.

Other Related Audits/Reports of Interest
Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance: Oversight of Homeless Shelters (2015-S-23)
New York City Department of Social Services: Oversight of Selected Fiscal Aspects of Homeless Shelter Services (2016-N-1)

State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director: Brian Reilly
Phone: (518) 474-3271; Email:
Address: Office of the State Comptroller; Division of State Government Accountability; 110 State Street, 11th Floor; Albany, NY 12236

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