New York City Mayor Eric Adams made a public show of support for Department of Social Services Commissioner Gary Jenkins on Monday following reports that he pressured agency staff to withhold information about shelter violations related to asylum seekers.
“Let’s be clear, he housed over 5,000 of those who were seeking asylums. He has been navigating the complexities that (are) associated with housing in this city. He has been part of the transit initiative that (resulted in) almost 1,800 people no longer living on our subway system (because they were) placed in Safe Havens,” Adams said at an unrelated press conference, referring to the number of asylum seekers he claims have come to New York in recent months, along with initiatives to remove people living in the subway system and place them in shelters. “I have the utmost confidence in him. I thank him for the job that he's doing and that entire team over there. I'm happy he's part of my team.”
Adams was responding to a question from a reporter about an alleged probe by the Department of Investigation into allegations that the Department of Social Services failed to disclose to the Adams administration that migrant families were not placed in shelters as required by law. Adams publicly admitted on July 20 that four families were forced to sleep in the city’s Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing intake center in the Bronx on the night of July 17, because officials were unable to find room for them in shelters.
Staff at the Department of Social Services learned of the shelter violations days earlier, NBC 4 reported, but were instructed not to inform the Adams administration or the Legal Aid Society. One agency staffer who worked in the press office at the Department of Homeless Services, Julia Savel, was fired from the agency after she objected to the direction, according to the news station. “Gary was trying to not tell city hall that we broke the law. I got yelled at for telling you. I’ve known since Monday,” Savel reportedly wrote in a text message to Adams’ press secretary, Kate Smart.
In another indication of a cover-up, the daily report issued by the Department of Social Services on July 17 detailing any possible shelter violations showed that no families slept overnight in the intake center, NBC 4 reported. An agency spokesperson characterized the data as an “error” and said it was “an unintentional oversight” that would be corrected, according to a statement issued to the outlet.
The transparency issues prompted outcry from homeless advocates who have cast doubt on the mayor’s narrative that chaos and overcrowding in the city’s shelter system is due to the influx of asylum seekers who have come to New York in recent months.
“These allegations are stunning, and we fear that we can no longer rely on this Administration for straight answers on the crisis facing families and individuals seeking shelter. To date, we are still waiting for complete data from the City regarding the extent of the violations, and we are concerned that the City’s failure to comply with the right to shelter and related local laws may be much more widespread than the City initially reported,” the Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless said in a joint statement following the report of Savel’s termination.
NBC 4 reported Friday, citing two unnamed sources, that the city’s independent investigatory authority, the Department of Investigation, was looking into the issues it reported and had interviewed at least one witness. The agency said it was “aware” of the allegations, but declined to comment further in a statement to NBC 4. The agency did not immediately respond to questions from City & State.
Adams on Monday said City Hall officials have not been asked by the Department of Investigation to sit for interviews related to the migrant shelter issues.