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Report: Nassau sent needy residents to unsafe emergency shelters

Nassau County placed needy residents in emergency shelters that were deemed uninhabitable after failing safety and health inspections, according to a report released Wednesday by County Comptroller George Maragos.

An audit of the county's $10 million Emergency Shelter Program covering 2010 and 2011 found that on multiple occasions residents were placed in two shelters in Hempstead and Roosevelt that were on the Nassau Office of Housing and Community Development's "Do Not Use" list for not meeting health and safety standards. One of the shelters has since been removed from the list, according to the report.

Maragos's audit notes the use of the shelters put "residents at risk, and the county at risk for liability, if injury had resulted from unsafe conditions."

"We should never place needy families in unsafe conditions," Maragos said in a statement Wednesday. Department of Social Service officials responded in the report by saying they will review the shelter list "to ensure that unsafe properties are not utilized to house homeless individuals and families." The department said it also plans to review the "Do Not Use" list at biweekly committee meetings to ensure the list remains updated.

Nassau contracts with 24 community-based shelters to provide emergency housing for the homeless.

The report cited $72,000 in duplicate payments to shelters, a figure that DSS officials dispute, contending that some of the payments flagged were not duplicates.

"While the amount of overpayments represented less than one percent of the total shelter payments for the audit period, our responsibility to the taxpayers is to ensure that every single penny is accounted for," said DSS Commissioner John Imhof.

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