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Buffalo comptroller: Local homeless shelters get 'passing grades'

Buffalo's homeless shelters have been inspected, and their conditions seem mostly OK.

“I would say that all 11 places I went to pretty much had passing grades,” said Buffalo Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder.

State inspectors have not yet offered their opinions of the shelters, with their inspection results still to come.

Schroeder said he's not sure if his office will prepare a report.

City, county and state personnel walked through homeless shelters – most in Buffalo, with one in Cheektowaga – late last month.

The inspections followed Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's State of the State address in January during which he ordered shelters in New York City and Buffalo to be inspected.

Schroeder said that he visited the homeless shelters in Buffalo along with the state inspectors.

“I went on all 11 of them in the City of Buffalo,” Schroeder said.

Some places stood out, including the volunteer-staffed Little Portion Friary on Main Street, the comptroller said.

“I was very impressed with the Little Portion Friary,” Schroeder said.

Others had areas needing to be tweaked or changed.

At one shelter, Schroeder said, there was a question about some brickwork on an outside wall – a situation that was already being addressed, he said. Other issues involved such things as exit signs.

“Certainly, they're going to have things to do,” he said.

Cuomo named Schroeder to lead the Buffalo inspection effort. The governor also asked state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer to audit other shelters statewide.

Their work includes onsite inspections and a review of operating and financial protocols.

Schroeder visited the shelters along with officials from the state's Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. Erie County personnel also participated.

Staff from the state's Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance conducted inspections “to ensure that shelters are safe, clean, supervised and well-maintained, as well as fully compliant with state and local laws and regulations,” said Anthony Farmer, a spokesman for the agency.

The state agency will use reports provided by the comptrollers “to determine whether enforcement action is needed for shelters to meet this standard,” Farmer said in an email to The News.

The agency is authorized to conduct inspections of shelters at its discretion, he said.

“This new initiative will involve the inspection of every shelter in New York State,” he said.

At the Salvation Army's homeless shelter on Main Street, inspected last week with the rest, leaders said that running a shelter for the homeless involved operating in a certain way.

“It's more about a system,” said Major Thomas V. Applin, who has headed the Salvation Army in Buffalo for the past five years.

“It's like operating a business,” he said. “In order to run a business, there's certain things that have to take place.

“It's about making sure that people's needs are taken care of, that they're comfortable, that they're safe,” he said.

Applin said that the Salvation Army tries to create a safe and stable atmosphere by holding to standards for residents of its shelter rooms – which can accommodate up to 77 people in family groups.

“We're trying to help people see that there's an orderly way of living,” Applin said.

“We have a standard that has to be maintained when you live in our residence, even when it's for 30 days or 90 days,” he said.

The Buffalo city comptroller said the cleanliness level of the local homeless shelters seemed, in general, to be fine.

“I was very impressed with the Buffalo City Mission, with the Salvation Army,” Schroeder said.

When Cuomo announced the inspections in January, he called many of the not-for-profits capable of running good operations and said many of the current shelters are well-run.

“But we need to know which are well-run and which are not,” Cuomo said.

The inspections by Schroeder and the other comptrollers will accomplish that, Cuomo said.

“Shelters they find to be unsafe or dangerous will either immediately add local police protection – or they will be closed,” Cuomo said.

And shelters found to be unsanitary or otherwise unfit could have their contracts canceled, operators replaced or face closure.