On Monday morning, residents of 941 Intervale Avenue were notified they would have just 24 hours to pack all of their belongings; they were being transferred to a new shelter. Everything they wished to take with them, an impersonal letter from the Department of Homeless Services informed them, would need to fit in two plastic bags. Extra money would be available for storage if residents could provide proof they had shopped around for the best deal.
Reached by the Voice, DHS clarified that residents will actually have somewhere between 36 and 72 hours before they will be transferred to a new location. The root of the trouble is that Aguila, Inc., the nonprofit organization with whom the city contracted to operate 18 “cluster site” homeless shelters in the Bronx, has pulled personnel out and ceased operations rather than accept a 10 percent reduction in city funding.
Christopher Miller, spokesman for the Department of Homeless Services said in a statement, “Since Aguila announced, a couple of weeks ago, its decision to end cluster services in the Bronx, DHS has been working swiftly to keep families safely sheltered and find them a new appropriate placement. We’re glad to have found a new site for many of them, and our case workers are on-site providing support and helping families with all they need as they transition to a new building.”
DHS did not specify where in the Bronx residents would be moved–new placements would be based on availability–but the agency emphasized it was working to keep children in the same schools.
As the Voice previously reported, Aguila, Inc. distributed letters to residents of 941 Intervale Avenue two weeks ago, informing them the nonprofit would no longer be operating the cluster site shelter.
There are an estimated 2000 cluster site apartments located around New York, and the city pays an average of $3,027 per month to operate each one. More than a third of that money goes directly to the landlord, but besides rent, it includes case management services, security, utilities, and, in some cases, furniture.
Aguila, which housed an estimated 500 families in the Bronx Neighborhood Annex, received more than $56 million from the City over the past fiscal year. Nonetheless, as DNAinfo reported in January, apartments at 941 Intervale were plagued by rats, roaches, leaks, and mold.
Earlier this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has been critical of the cluster site program, announced a plan to reduce by ten percent the amount of money cluster site contractors like Aguila would be paid. Aguila announced it would cease operations of the Bronx Neighborhood Annex shortly thereafter, leaving DHS in the lurch. (At press time, Aguila, Inc. had not responded to an inquiry from the Voice.)
DHS promised that none of the residents would be left on the streets as a result of Aguila’s actions. “As we said two weeks ago, we’re committed to providing safe and appropriate shelter to all families affected,” Miller said.