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Nassau County failed to inspect homeless shelters for three years, comptroller says

Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos addresses the Nassau

Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos addresses the Nassau County Legislature during a budget hearing at the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

Nassau County failed to inspect its homeless shelters over a three-year period, despite federal and county rules requiring annual inspections, according to a report released Wednesday by Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos.

Only one of the county’s 27 shelters was inspected from 2012 to 2014, according to the comptroller’s audit. The review also found that none of the seven motels contracted by Nassau for emergency housing were inspected during that period.

Last year, Nassau spent nearly $8 million in county, state and federal funding to provide emergency housing for 896 homeless individuals, including 427 children, according to the report.

“It’s concerning and disappointing,” Maragos said in an interview. “This program provides crucial services to the homeless and should not be neglected. The homeless turn to their government when they have nowhere else to turn, and the Office of Housing and Community Development has an obligation to provide our needy with safe and clean temporary housing as entrusted by the taxpayers.”

The shelters and motels have since been inspected by the Department of Social Services, after the comptroller’s office presented the agency with its findings in October, Maragos said, noting that he received a copy of the inspection reports Tuesday and that he planned to review them for a follow-up study.

The audit was launched last March after the comptroller’s office received complaints about conditions at some of the facilities, including allegations reported by News 12 Long Island that a Freeport shelter did not provide heat to its residents last Jan 8.

Auditors requested inspection reports for the Freeport facility, from the two county agencies that oversee homeless services, the Department of Social Services and the Office of Housing and Community Development, but found there was “confusion” between the agencies “as to who was responsible for the maintenance of these records,” which led to a lapse in inspections.

The review also found the agencies had no system to log complaints about the shelters.

“Without written records there is no evidence of the number of complaints, if any corrective actions were taken, and if there are shelters that receive frequent complaints,” the report notes.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires local governments to inspect shelters annually to ensure they comply with health and safety standards. A spokesman for the agency, provided with the report on Wednesday, said he could not immediately comment on penalties for municipalities that do not conduct the inspections.

In an e-mail, Nassau Social Services Commissioner John Imhof said “since October 2015, every Nassau County shelter has been inspected,” and “a complete inspection report of every shelter is on file with the Comptroller’s office,” with all shelters in “full compliance.”

Imhoff said “it should also be noted” that the shelters are also subject to inspections from the county health department and local fire officials.

Maragos’ audit comes as local governments throughout the state grapple with an order issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last Sunday requiring municipalities to provide shelter to all homeless residents when temperatures dip below 32 degrees.

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