County Homeless Shelter Drug & Money Scandal.
We believe the County of Westchester ought to get its act together with regard to its homeless population, and specifically the County Homeless Shelter in Valhalla. Currently, shelter residents receive, and for many years, when the shelter was at the airport location, received food stamp benefits. Those funds, at present $155-per-month for single homeless individuals without any outside income, are provided under case management from the Westchester County Department of Social Services. The money is specifically intended, under federal and state regulations, to be used for the purchase of unprepared food; no cooked meals or sandwiches, and definitely no cigarettes or any other items that might be found at supermarkets, delis, grocery stores, or bodegas throughout Westchester.
Shelter residents access these funds at participating, authorized food venders, by use of their Debit I.D. cards provided by the Westchester Department of Social Services. However, under the rules, those living in the County Homeless Shelter are fed three meals a day, and have neither the place nor the opportunity to store and prepare the raw, uncooked, unprepared food they are supposed to be purchasing with their food stamp funds for their own consumption. Therein lies the problem.
The County of Westchester is putting $155 per month, (in addition to personal spending money of approximately $25 every two weeks) into the hands of homeless individuals who are, for the most part, unemployed, with lots of time and little accountability. Confidential sources inform The Westchester Guardian that many residents of the County Shelter at Valhalla routinely convert their food stamp money into cash at any number of unscrupulous and illegal food markets, and bodegas throughout Westchester, accepting as little as $90, or whatever they manage to negotiate, and often using those funds to purchase cigarettes and illegal drugs.
We were further informed that the use of illegal drugs was routine amongst so many residents at the Valhalla Shelter that it was causing serious problems daily, keeping it under wraps. We are aware that about two weeks ago, the day after We visited the shelter site on a photo-taking mission, identifying ourselves to a uniformed guard, several residents, reportedly involved in drug sales and abuse, were evicted from the building.
In fairness, dealing with homeless individuals is a complex, and often very trying, task. Frequently they are victims of circumstances, at least, partially beyond their control. Many others have brought about their plight through alcohol, and/or drug abuse. To the County’s credit the Department of Community Mental Health, under Dr. Jennifer Schaffer, does, in fact, perform evaluations of all persons admitted to the County Homeless Shelter, specifically “to assess their mental health and their potential employability.” Having made those assessments the DCMH findingsare passed along to the Westchester County Department of Social Services that is solely responsible for the provision of shelter and services to the homeless.
While it is true that individuals who are found to be, or are suspected of being, involved in substance abuse, upon screening by DCMH, are referred to drug prevention and rehabilitation programs while under Department of Social Services case management and supervision, it is clearly counterproductive to be putting nearly $2,000 a year, each, into the hands of many hundreds of individuals who clearly have no entitlement to those funds under federal and state rules and regulations. Worse yet, it is scandalous to continue to knowingly squander taxpayer dollars, hundreds of thousands per year, incredibly, to enrich unscrupulous merchants, and local drug dealers.
The Westchester Department of Social Services has been well aware of this monthly contribution of public resources to the criminal element in our community for many years, but persists in its practice of funding factually, and legally, ineligible recipients despite the destructive consequences. In light of that fact We now callupon Commissioner Kevin Mahon to open a comprehensive investigation into these allegations for the purpose of halting the unnecessary, and unlawful, transfer of public funds into the coffers of unscrupulous vendors, and drug dealers..