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Officers with NYC Homeless Services facing increased danger still not allowed to carry weapons

An NYPD officer stands guard at one of the city's homeless shelters.  Credit: CBS New York
An NYPD officer stands guard at one of the city’s homeless shelters. Credit: CBS New York

New York City’s Department of Homeless Services officers are increasingly danger when dealing with the increasing homeless population, often finding themselves at odds with substance abusers and the mentally ill.

62 year-old former teacher Deven Black was nearly decapitated in his bed at the Boulevard Homeless Shelter in East Harlem by his shelter-assigned roommate, Anthony White. White, reportedly killing Black over an altercation concerning an iPhone, left Black’s mutilated body on the floor as he fled. Despite an ongoing manhunt, White has not been apprehended, according to the New York Daily News.

Known as a haven for the mentally ill, the spilling of blood is not a new affair for the staff at Boulevard Homeless Shelter- last September, another man was murdered after getting into an argument with his roommate.

Mayor de Blasio promised action in response to the East Harlem murders, vowing to deploy additional Homeless Services Department officers to provide round-the-clock coverage at mental health shelters.

“Our shelters should be safe environments where homeless people can be treated with respect, become self-sufficient and move to permanent housing,” City Hall spokeswoman Ishanee Parikh said on Saturday. “We’ve increased funding for security by 35% and continue to evaluate opportunities to expand and improve our security measures.”

Just last Wednesday, 26-year-old Rebecca Cutler and two of her three children were killed at a Ramada Inn housing homeless families in Staten Island when jealous boyfriend Michael Sykes, 23, went on a stabbing rampage. According to officials, Ziana, 1, and Maliyah, just 4 months old, died after being stabbed multiple times. The third child, two-year-old Miracle, survived. Sykes was arrested Saturday afternoon in Queens.

Despite gang violence, the mentally ill, substance abusers and former inmates being regular guests in the shelters, the homeless services cops do not carry guns. The standard gear includes a set of handcuffs and a thin, flexible police baton. A handful of higher-ranking officers in shelters for the mentally ill carry pepper spray, while those officers who move from shelter to shelter occasionally carry tasers. While the city bolsters the numbers of the officers with private security personnel (at the cost of $43 million a year), the security officers can neither carry weapons nor make arrests.

“Some of the people in the shelter system have just come from Rikers. They’re way more hardened and dangerous than the (homeless services) cops,” an anonymous high-ranking sources told the New York Daily News. “There’s gangs in the shelters. There’s all kinds of drugs being bought and sold in shelters. There’s a lot of disturbed people. And they have weapons.”

News investigations conducted into the types of weapons commonly found in shelters turned up a frightening array of homemade implements: ranging from prison-style improvised shanks to hunting knives and billiard balls wrapped in socks.

When violence breaks out, shelter guards are generally forced to call one of the lightly-equipped shelter police or wait on patrol units from NYPD.

“We’re all exhausted, we’re working double shifts like crazy,” said one homeless services cop who spoke to the New York Daily News on condition of anonymity. “We’re supposed to protect the residents and the staff, but honestly, a lot of us worry about how to protect ourselves, too.”

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