A top union official is blasting the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for creating “a largely fictional narrative regarding assigned overtime” while it failed to hold a politically connected social service nonprofit accountable for not delivering on a multi-million-dollar homeless-outreach contract for at least four years.
Last month, State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli released a blistering audit that covered from Jan. 2015 through Feb. of 2019 of a contract that the transit agency has with the Bowery Residents Committee, a nonprofit that took millions from the agency but largely failed to perform homeless outreach in places like Penn Station and Grand Central Station.
‘Silent on This Fiasco’
“The anti-worker MTA board members created a largely fictional narrative regarding assigned overtime, yet they remain silent on who in the agency is responsible for this homeless contract fiasco. That seems par for their hypocritical course,” Transport Workers Union of America President John Samuelsen said in an e-mail.
At the press conference following the MTA’s July 24 public meeting, MTA Chairman Pat Foye told reporters the audit results were “shocking and disappointing,” but did not offer any details on which individual or department within his agency had failed to flag BRC’s poor performance over the extended period of time the non-profit was under Mr. DiNapoli’s scrutiny.
The New York State Comptroller also released audits of homeless outreach contracts held by the LIRR in January and Metro-North Railroad in February.
“We witnessed numerous instances where outreach workers appeared to intentionally isolate themselves inside the BRC office, unresponsive to clients who came seeking services,” according to the State Comptroller’s audit. “We also found BRC’s standardized reports—and the basis for data analysis and informed outreach decision-making—to be unreliable, as they were based on inaccurate and/or incomplete data.”
The report continued, “Furthermore, the MTA does not have a process in place to verify BRC’s reported data. Without assurance of accurate data, the MTA cannot trust that homeless clients are being served as intended and that outreach is being directed to where it is needed most.”
The state audit documented that BRC’s outreach workers spent on average “about 26 percent of their time (2.2 hours per shift) providing actual outreach services—far less than the expected range of 47 to 59 percent (4-5 hours per shift). In fact, the bulk of outreach workers’ time was spent in the BRC office (53 percent, or 4.51 hours per shift).”
In announced and unannounced visits to Penn Station, auditors saw BRC staff in “numerous instances…ignoring homeless people knocking on the door of the outreach office in Penn Station, where they sometimes hung a ‘closed’ sign on the door even though outreach workers were inside.”
At Grand Central over five unannounced visits, “auditors saw workers spend just over one hour per shift (14 percent of their time) doing outreach,” with one day consisting “of a single outreach effort lasting 39 minutes.”
“Riders and the homeless are the ones most hurt by what our audits have so far uncovered,” Mr. DiNapoli wrote in a statement to The Chief. “The MTA took the first step of hiring someone to conduct professional outreach, but its failure to monitor BRC left homeless men and women seeking assistance literally locked out in some cases. We’ll be watching the MTA’s progress as we continue to audit its outreach program.”
Mr. Foye said that MTA riders were “entitled to a clean, safe and secure environment” and “the percentage of emotionally disturbed” present in the subway “is contrary to that.”
The agency has now committed to work with the state’s Office of Temporary Disability Assistance which regulates homeless services provided by local governments. MTA’s Managing Director Ronnie Hakim has been put in charge of a newly-formed homeless task force that Mr. Foye predicted would make a “demonstrable” improvement.
According to its website, the BRC is a nonprofit founded in 1971 by “a small group of men on the Bowery came together and bravely decided to change their lives.”
Based on its latest available tax filings through Guide Star, the charity clearing-house, BRC brought in $289,730,562 in government grants from 2012 through 2016.
Its Executive Director, Lawrence “Muzzy” Rosenblatt, a former municipal official during the Koch, Dinkins and Giuliani administrations, became Acting Commissioner for Homeless Services for eight months during 1998 and 1999. His total compensation at BRC was listed as $340,662.
The firm is represented by Capalino + Company, the lobbying firm whose CEO is James Capalino, one of Mayor de Blasio’s major political donors.
On July 29, WNYC reported that in 2014 BRC got a multi-million dollar contract without bidding from the New York City Department of Homeless Services “to help homeless people sleeping on subways and get them into shelters.” A DHS spokesman told the radio station the contract was not put out for bid, but was “rather awarded via required/authorized source.”
“The contract was subsequently renewed in 2017, in the end earning the group $64 million over a six-year period, according to documents from the city comptroller’s office and information provided by the Department of Homeless Services,” WNYC reported.
BRC did not reply to either a phone message or a detailed email query about what steps the multi-million-dollar charity was taking in response to Mr. DiNapoli’s findings.
A Growing Problem
In recent years, TWU Local 100 members have described the serious challenges they faced in dealing with homeless individuals who on occasion have assaulted them.
According to a report from MTA Inspector General Carolyn Pokornoy issued on July 23, the MTA has spent tens of millions of dollars since 2010 in an effort to deal with the homeless issue. But her preliminary probe found BRC appeared to be “at best” providing “minimal outreach” while “often turning away those apparently seeking assistance and worst seemingly ignoring the homeless persons seeking assistance.”
WCBS-TV reported that homeless incidents in the subway had more than tripled in the last decade, “many causing serious delays, rising from 254 in 2008 to 856 last year. In 659 of those cases, trains were delayed, nearly twice a day.”
The New York Times reported that the numbers continue to rise, with 313 homeless-related delays documented for just the first quarter of the year.
Brian Aryai, the CEO of Icon Compliance Services, a forensic accounting and investigations firm, and a former U.S. Treasury Senior Special Agent, believes that what Mr. DiNapoli’s auditors flagged merits a criminal investigation.
“Once again, the MTA has abysmally failed to deliver on budgeted funds and retained the services of a contractor that came nowhere near delivering what was intended,” he wrote in an email. “Unless adequate and effective internal controls are designed, implemented and sufficiently and independently supervised, these conditions will continue to deteriorate. It defies logic that outreach workers would spend more time in their office than in the field, which entirely eviscerates the purpose and legitimacy of this project.”
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