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NYS Comptroller

THOMAS P. DiNAPOLI

Taxpayers' Guide to State and Local Audits

Metropolitan Transportation Authority
New York City Department of Social Services
Homeless Outreach Services in the New York City Subway System


Issued: January 16, 2020
Link to full audit report 2018-S-59

Objectives
To determine whether the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS) have appropriate oversight and monitoring controls over homeless outreach services in the New York City subway system and whether they have met their goal in reducing the number of homeless individuals in the subway system through placements. The audit covers the period January 1, 2015 through June 6, 2019.

About the Program
Within the MTA, New York City Transit operates the New York City subway system, the largest subway transportation network in North America. Its 472 stations serve a daily average of 5.6 million travelers throughout the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens. Many of the stations are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and as such have increasingly become a place of refuge for homeless individuals – and a growing concern for the MTA on behalf of its customers and staff. In 2013, the MTA entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with DHS to provide homeless outreach and placement services. In turn, DHS contracted with Bowery Residents’ Committee (BRC), a non-profit provider of homeless housing and services, to perform these services.

DHS’ three-year contract, effective June 2014 through June 2017, required BRC to reduce the homeless population residing in subways by two-thirds of the 2013 NYC homeless census count (from 1,841 to 626). In July 2017, DHS extended the contract for another three years, to 2020. At a cost of about $6 million annually, funded equally each year by both DHS and the MTA, the contract is valued at about $36 million for homeless outreach.

BRC is responsible for conducting regular visits to MTA subway stations to locate, identify, and engage with homeless individuals, with the goal of placing them. The contract established performance measures (e.g., frequency of station visits) for tracking BRC’s success and outcomes and also required DHS to establish annual census reduction targets. BRC is required to document its activities through standardized reports (e.g., Daily Reports) related to performance measures. As the DHS-designated agent for homeless services in the subway system, BRC is also responsible for entering Daily Report data into DHS’ homeless Client Assistance and Rehousing Enterprise System (CARES) or other databases identified by DHS such as StreetSmart, a client tracking and reporting system.

Key Findings

  • BRC's outreach has failed to reduce the homeless population residing within the New York City subway system below the 2013 levels:
    • The homeless census count at the 2017 contract milestone was 1,812 – a decrease of only 29 from the 2013 count of 1,841 and short of the two-thirds reduction requirement.
    • The 2019 homeless census puts the count at 2,178 – an 18 percent increase since 2013.
  • DHS and the MTA have not lived up to their oversight and monitoring responsibilities, as outlined in the contract and MOU, respectively, in support of the outreach effort:
    • DHS did not establish annual census reduction targets for BRC, which would have provided additional insight on progress throughout the contract period, nor did the MTA ensure that DHS had established these targets.
    • DHS did not use the tools available under the contract to monitor BRC’s activities and track performance. For example, BRC was not submitting the required Daily Reports, which are critical for informed oversight, and officials were not aware they should have been receiving them.
  • While DHS touts BRC’s subway placement numbers – approximately 600 since 2016 as reported in CARES – the data is unreliable:
    • From a sample of 50 client placements reported in CARES, 20 clients (40 percent) either were not placed in the reported shelter or were not placed on the date reported – sometimes with significant discrepancies. For example, in one case, a client was not placed until over one year after being reported as placed. Additionally, this client was placed in a different shelter than what was reported.
    • As explained to us by DHS officials during the audit, for BRC reporting purposes, the definition of “placement” is broadly encompassing, to include not only actual placements in a shelter – as the general public would expect it to mean – but also potential placements, where homeless individuals have merely agreed to go to a shelter at a future time. (Officials later retracted this, indicating instead that placement is counted only when a homeless individual is actually placed in a facility.)

Key Recommendations

To DHS:

  • Ensure outreach workers meet established performance measures.
  • Monitor BRC outreach workers to ensure they are providing a sufficient level of outreach services in the New York City subway system.
  • Enhance internal controls to ensure that BRC’s reported data in CARES is accurate and complete, and use the available data to make informed managerial decisions.

TO DHS and MTA:

  • Work together to develop and establish census reduction targets.

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