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Despite Pleas, City Sticks to No-Sleep Order at Youth Drop-In Centers

DYCD commissioner says youth in need can ‘rest’ but not ‘sleep’ — while the mayor blames the migrant crisis for not adding more youth shelter beds.

SHARE Despite Pleas, City Sticks to No-Sleep Order at Youth Drop-In Centers

A young person rests at a Queens drop-in center that provides 24-hour services for people aged 14 to 24, May 21, 2019.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Youth drop-in center operators say city officials are not backing down on a new directive to prevent sleeping at overnight facilities, despite concerns that the restriction is pushing young people back out on the street.

Meanwhile, Mayor Eric Adams said the city’s migrant crisis is preventing his administration from adding more badly needed shelter beds for young people. 

Last month, the Department of Youth and Community Development directed the city’s five overnight drop-in centers for homeless and runaway teens and young adults to remove recliners and cots, to discourage young people from getting shut-eye when they come in for services, as first reported last week by THE CITY.

Service providers paid by DYCD to run the drop-in centers met with department representatives on Monday to discuss the new directive, but there was no change to the policy, according to people who attended the meeting. 

In a statement to THE CITY via a spokesperson Wednesday, DYCD Commissioner Keith Howard said that it was “falsely reported that young people are not able to rest at DYCD-funded drop-in centers.”

Still, Howard admitted to a new push to prevent snoozing.

“While drop-in centers can and should provide participants with opportunities for rest and respite, they cannot legally operate as overnight shelters,” he wrote in the email. “The recent clarifying guidance from DYCD simply makes clear that providers need to discontinue the practice of allowing youth and young adults to sleep overnight.”

Don’t Lie Down

As THE CITY previously reported, the department told providers to remove any furniture that could provide bed-like conditions, such as cots and recliners. Those providers complained that tired young people were now reluctant to come into overnight centers, which offer food, clothing, showers, laundry and social services.

While the drop-in centers are not generally overseen by the state, a spokesperson for the state-run Office of Children and Family Services said it is “working with DYCD to explore pathways to establish the appropriate service programs for youth and young adults to ensure their health and safety needs.”

Mayor Eric Adams says DYCD issued the directive on Jan. 13 because the city did not want the drop-in centers to be used as shelters even as it was constrained in adding more beds.

“That’s not where children should be,” the mayor told THE CITY Wednesday night while handing out hot meals as part of a weekly volunteer effort in Midtown. The overnight drop-in centers serve young people 14 to 24 years old.

When asked if the city planned to expand the number of youth shelter beds, he said the migrant crisis had slowed the process. Former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration in 2016 committed to adding 100 beds a year to address runaway and homeless youth, but no such pledge has been made by Adams.

The city currently has 754 shelter beds operated by DYCD; shelter for adults is provided by the Department of Homeless Services. 

“We would have done far more than that, but you know, we’re dealing with 47,000 people that showed up on our doorstep that we had to care for — but our focus is on our runaway youth and we’re going to be there for them,” Adams said. 

Eyes Open

Providers say the no-sleep change is detrimental to the teens and young adults they’re trying to help. Many used Valentine’s Day to urge Howard and Adams to “have a heart” and reverse the directive.

“Youth deserve safe places to rest,” read tweets shared by the Coalition for Homeless Youth. “@Nycyouth please show youth experiencing homelessness some love this #ValentinesDay, by rescinding your directive.”

Advocates also emailed valentines to the commissioner, asking for young people to be able to rest at the drop-in centers. 

“I think it’s really cruel and inhumane to deprive any youth — vulnerable population in particular — a chance to rest,” Amy Leipziger, project director for the Peter Cicchino Youth Project, told THE CITY. 

The Youth Project works with young people and service providers to offer legal and other support, and recently began again after a hiatus of more than two years.

Leipziger noted that many people arrive at the centers late at night, when there is no immediate way to get them housing services.

“You’re just going to let them sit there and stay awake until 6 a.m. and then let them go out on the street?” she asked.

Keeping Him Up at Night

Drop-in center operators say they’re still working to address the needs of people coming in — with some ignoring the new order by keeping furniture and allowing young people to sleep.

“I’m scared with what I’m doing, I’m scared that I’m not following this directive and we might be considered as difficult or oppositional, and that might strain our relationship,” Alex Roque, president and executive director of the Ali Forney Center in Harlem, told THE CITY.

“I cannot adhere to this policy and sleep at night. Not just me, none of my coworkers would allow this,” Roque said.

Rose Yasonia, a program director for SCO Family of Services, which oversees the Brooklyn Youth Center, said there is a “huge need” for more beds for young people.

At the Brooklyn center, young people are still allowed to close their eyes but, “they’re sitting in chairs, they’re sitting on the couch,” Yasonia told THE CITY. Staff are in the position of explaining the new rules to their patrons, she said: “It can be a little bit tricky on the ground.”

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