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NYC Stepping Up Security At Homeless Shelters

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- New York City is stepping up security at homeless shelters, dedicating more money, resources and manpower to combat the issue of violence in the shelter system.

City officials touted the overhaul Tuesday as a $140 million reform program to attack safety concerns for those in shelters while also encouraging the homeless to stay in shelters rather than sleeping on the street, CBS2's Janelle Burrell reported.

Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks and NYPD Chief of Department James O'Neil outlined the plan, which came after a 90-day review of the shelter system ordered by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

"Whatever we need to do to make DHS more effective, more efficient and keep residents safe, that's what we're gonna do," said O'Neil.

"We will be focused on a wide range of incidents to make sure we can identify gaps in services and respond effectively," said Banks.

As part of the plan, the NYPD will begin retraining all Department of Homeless Services security staff. They will be retrained on techniques like de-escalation, crisis intervention and dealing with mental health issues, WCBS 880's Marla Diamond reported.

"They need to do that, the staff here can't handle the situation," shelter resident John Lee told CBS2.

High-profile incidents at homeless shelters have made multiple headlines in recent months. Lee has lived in an East Harlem shelter for four months. This is the same shelter where former teacher Deven Black, 62, was stabbed to death and nearly decapitated at the Boulevard Homeless Shelter on Lexington Avenue in East Harlem.

Black's roommate, 21-year-old Anthony White, is a suspect in the case. The NYPD said White killed the victim after threatening for days to kill someone over his stolen cellphone.

Lee said there were clear warning signs.

"He was screaming out for help in his own way. If they were trained, they could have spotted it," Lee said.

The NYPD will also develop an action plan to upgrade security at shelter facilities, restore domestic violence programs for family shelters and implement a new, more extensive reporting system for incidents.

"We want homeless shelters to be safe and clean, but at the same time we must and we will continue to move families out and prevent them from coming to shelter in the first place," de Blasio said in a statement.

The new measures will affect all shelters, whether run by the city, non-profits or the private sector, 1010 WINS' Juliet Papa reported.

O'Neil said there has been no decision to patrol shelters with NYPD officers, WCBS 880's Rich Lamb reported.

Teamsters president Gregory Floyd represent the security guards who work in the shelters and said change is needed.

"We are really under siege," he said.

The mayor's office has already increased security at mental health facilities and commercial hotels.

Last month, Rebecca Cutler, 26, and her two daughters — 1-year-old Ziana Cutler and 4-month-old Maiyah Sykesa – were found stabbed to death at a Ramada Inn on North Gannon Avenue on Staten Island, where they had been staying as part of a city homeless services program.

Michael Sykes, 25, was charged with all their murders and with stabbing a third daughter, 2-year-old Miracle, who survived.

Earlier this month, unarmed security guards confiscated a collection of cleavers, knives, razors, daggers and other cutting implements from a homeless shelter at 30th Street and First Avenue. Numerous weapons were also collected from five Brooklyn shelters in a period of just 24 hours.

The chief said that reassessment by NYPD will take roughly six months. In the meantime, all DHS officers and security will undergo retraining by the NYPD.

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