Brooklyn Boro

The MTA’s homeless outreach program is not actually helping, audit says

July 25, 2019 Kelly Mena
Eagle photo by Ned Berke

The nonprofit organization tasked with providing support services to homeless individuals at the city’s major subway stations failed to reach a significant amount of people for nearly four years, a recently released state study shows . 

Bowery Residents’ Committee, a nonprofit initially hired in 2010 to provide homeless services to major MTA rail stations (Penn Station, Grand Central and a number of stations along LIRR and Metro North routes including routes in Brooklyn), used less than half of their time actually doing outreach work from Jan. 1, 2015, to Feb. 4, 2019, according to a new audit from New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli released on Tuesday.  

According to the report, MTA officials told auditors they had expected BRC workers to spend 4-5 hours per 8.5-hour shift performing outreach services. The audit shows they in fact spent, on average, 2.2 hours per shift doing outreach. The report showed that the bulk of their time — 4.5 hours per shift on average — was actually spent in the office.

“The nonprofit the MTA hired has turned away homeless men and women seeking assistance. The MTA is not getting what it paid for and riders and the homeless are suffering for it,” said DiNapoli in a public statement. 

The MTA has been contracting with BRC since March of 2010, and has paid them nearly $12 million as of October 2017. The most-current contract, effective November 2017 through October 2021, cost the MTA more than $2.1 million with yearly increases set at a maximum of 2 percent. Under the contract, the program’s budget is subject to negotiations and appropriate staffing and cost controls each year. 

Under the contract, BRC is responsible for carrying out regular visits to the MTA stations and producing standardized activity reports on a daily, weekly and monthly basis to be submitted to subway agency officials.

These reports are then supposed to be entered into the MTA’s Homeless Outreach Program database. However, the audit shows that these daily reports have been found to contain missing information and inaccuracies.

The MTA has no way to verify the data BRC reports, and inaccurate reporting weakens the database’s ability to analyze trends and improve services to the homeless, the report says. 

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For example, in all cases of LIRR stations outside of Manhattan — including those in Brooklyn such as Atlantic Avenue terminal — the report showed that outreach efforts accounted for far less than the 4-5 hours per shift the MTA expected. Auditors say there was no documentation to support this reduction in coverage.

BRC often did not have the required number of outreach and supervisory staff that the 14-month contract required, the audit found, and positions went unfilled for months with an employee-vacancy rate of 21 percent in the first three months of the most recent contract, a violation of its terms. 

“Straphangers and commuters can see firsthand that homelessness is a growing problem in the transit system, but the MTA is not doing enough to oversee its own outreach program,” added DiNapoli in his report. 

Following the audit, DiNapoli offered oversight and enforcement recommendations to the program, including developing a system for verifying the BRC’s data reports and implementing performance measures for gauging the nonprofit’s impact on the homeless population within the city’s subways. 

The MTA itself, in response to the audit, has created a monitoring program and has begun evaluating outreach workers and amending its metrics for performance of homeless outreach. 

“I have requested that MTA staff promptly meet with BRC to address the serious issues raised in this Audit. Additionally, I will be working with staff to ensure that management is following up on and enforcing the audit’s recommendations, where appropriate, and requesting regular, interim reports,” said MTA Chairperson Patrick Foye in a statement included in the audit. 

The report comes just as the MTA announced the launch of a task force to decrease the growing homeless population along the city’s subway system, according to the New York Post. The group, which will include MTA and NYPD officials, will have 30 days to come up with a plan.

BRC did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Update (July 25 at 2:47 p.m.): This story has been updated to reflect the MTA’s announcement of a new homeless task force. 

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  1. Ro from Park Slope

    Something must be done to help people who are sleeping in the subway. I’ve seen two or three guys sleeping in the the same subway car. As a local myself, I’ve never seen anything like this in my very long life.