As New York City faced a worsening homelessness crisis in recent years, officials repeatedly sought to hide the reality on the ground, according to a city investigation released on Tuesday.
The investigation came after reports that homeless families stayed overnight at a Bronx intake office in the summer of 2022, violating a legal mandate requiring the city to provide them shelter. The former social services commissioner, Gary Jenkins, delayed reporting the violation and did not give a full accounting of the situation to the mayor’s office, according to the 49-page report by the New York City Department of Investigation.
Investigators found that city officials had failed to identify at least six other previously unreported violations of the rules that are meant to prevent families from being without shelter overnight.
At the same time, officials intentionally manipulated public data about the number of families eligible for shelter from 2017 until 2022 — under the mayoral administrations of Bill de Blasio and Eric Adams — to make the problem appear less severe, the report found.
Homeless advocates called the shelter violation findings a “disturbing cover-up” and said they were “extremely troubled” by the manipulation of data. They called on the City Council to hold an oversight hearing on the report.
The city must comply with its “legal and moral mandate to provide shelter to homeless families with children who seek it,” the Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless said in a statement.
The violations came in July 2022 as officials scrambled to cope with a surge in migrant families arriving in the city without a place to stay. More than 160,000 migrants have arrived in New York over the last two years, and the mayor has said they are overwhelming the shelter system.
The investigation focused on two top city officials: Mr. Jenkins, who oversaw social services under Mr. Adams during his first year in office, and Joslyn Carter, the administrator of the Department of Homeless Services who was appointed by Mr. de Blasio in 2017 and stayed in the role under Mr. Adams.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Adams, Kayla Mamelak, defended City Hall’s handling of the shelter violations in a statement and did not address the report’s criticism of Mr. Jenkins. She said that investigators “agreed with precisely what we have been saying all along — there was never any wrongdoing by Mayor Adams, nor anyone at City Hall, as we began to experience this influx.”
Long before the migrant crisis, the report found that Ms. Carter and her subordinates had artificially lowered the “monthly eligibility rate,” a publicly available figure showing the percentage of families seeking shelter who are found eligible.
Neha Sharma, a spokeswoman for the Department of Social Services, said that the agency respected the report’s findings and was “fully committed to taking any steps needed to further strengthen accountability mechanisms at the agency.”
Ms. Sharma also defended Ms. Carter, who has worked at the Department of Homeless Services for nearly two decades.
“This one instance is not a reflection of the hard work of a civil servant who has demonstrated unwavering commitment to supporting vulnerable communities and has helped countless New Yorkers stabilize their lives,” she said.
Ms. Carter told investigators that she had altered the statistics at the direction of Steven Banks, the former social services commissioner, in response to concerns from Mr. de Blasio, who she said was “obsessed with getting the rate down.” Mr. Banks acknowledged that he had paid attention to the rate, but denied being involved in manipulating it, the report said.
The city uses the eligibility rate to plan for shelter capacity and to budget for rental assistance vouchers. The investigation found that city officials had held the rate down by placing cases that had been identified as “preliminarily eligible” on hold and delaying their final designation. Those efforts could have delayed some families’ moves “into more stable housing,” the report said.
Mr. Banks said in a statement, “I am gratified that DOI found no evidence that any family was left without shelter during my tenure and no evidence that I directed or was aware of this matter.”
Mr. Jenkins announced his resignation last year after receiving criticism for his handling of the migrant crisis.
The investigation found that Mr. Jenkins displayed “a lack of full transparency” over the overnight stays. Mr. Jenkins “at a minimum appeared to minimize, if not misrepresent, the circumstances” to City Hall, the report found.
Mr. Jenkins now works at a consulting firm led by Frank Carone, Mr. Adams’s former chief of staff. Mr. Jenkins said in a statement that he believed that the investigation had cleared him of “any wrongdoing.”
“I communicated transparently to City Hall and proudly stand by my tenure, especially given the unprecedented and unpredictable nature of the migrant crisis,” he said.