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Exclusive: Man living in Queens congregate men's shelter shares stories of harassment, poor living conditions

Exclusive: City investigating conditions at Queens men's shelter
Exclusive: City investigating conditions at Queens men's shelter 02:43

NEW YORK -- The rough conditions inside a Queens congregate men's shelter with about 180 residents have sparked a city investigation.

It comes after a 27-year-old man experiencing homelessness became a whistleblower, sharing photos, videos and his personal ordeal exclusively with CBS2's Dave Carlin.

"I never saw myself in a position like this, ever a day in my life, no," said the man, who wished to remain anonymous.

He moved to New York from Texas a year ago, landed a job in hospitality working fancy events, but the very opposite of that is where he's been sleeping.

"I make about $27 an hour with that company alone," the man said.

"And it's still too hard to find a place?" Carlin asked

"Yep," the man said.

So, he is experiencing homelessness, surrounded by apparent squalor, drug use and violence inside Glendale's Cooper Rapid Rehousing Center with a population of more than 180 men.

He started taking videos and photos of what goes on inside after being harassed and attacked.

"I do identify as queer," the man said. "I was assaulted multiple times. The police came out, they said it wasn't really their issue, it's something that has to be dealt with internally." 

He says he can confirm what many neighbors are claiming about crime spilling out of the shelter and into the community. 

"A lot of drug dealing happening around the area, people doing sexual activity over by the school right behind the shelter, and I've seen this all first hand," the man said. "I did my due diligence in finding my local city councilman and I reached out to him."

On Wednesday, Councilman Robert Holden made sure the young man was reassigned elsewhere to a hotel room.

"He's talented. We want to help him. He did a service to everyone in New York City, showing the conditions of the shelters," Holden said. "Get him an apartment, that's my goal, to get him an apartment."

"I know that something good will end up coming out of this," the man said.

Something good, according to Holden, is the city shutting down the Cooper Center.

"The mayor is looking at it. So is [New York City Department of Homeless Services] Commissioner [Gary] Jenkins," Holden said.

"This is supposed to be a working men's shelter, but time and time again, we have people that have severe mental illness ... that really don't fit with what the shelter was for," Glendale resident Dawn Scala said.

Holden favors facilities with smaller groups of residents so their needs can be handled more effectively.

"It's a de Blasio leftover. We need to change it ... I don't believe that we should put 200 men in one location," Holden said.

Holden says the long-term fix is for the city to get working individuals experiencing homelessness into affordable apartments and not warehouse people in sprawling centers with inadequate services and protections.

Friday afternoon, CBS2 heard back from a spokesperson with the city Department of Social Services, who said enhanced reporting mechanisms are in place that are leading to investigations and faster responses.

In a statement, the NYPD said the 104th precinct's commanding officer Deputy Inspector Kevin Coleman met with the 27-year-old on Wednesday, "as soon as [Coleman] was made aware that the victim had been assaulted during the past several weeks. Those two assaults, which were deemed possible biased incidents, are now being investigated by the NYPD's Hate Crime Task Force. There are no arrests and the investigations are active and ongoing." 

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