September 27, 2022

Fired NYC official says Homeless Services Commissioner Gary Jenkins tried to hide violations; Mayor Adams disagrees

The city’s commissioner for homeless services, Gary Jenkins, came under scrutiny on Thursday after texts emerged showing his former spokeswoman saying he had tried to hide violations of the city’s shelter laws from Mayor Adams and the public — a claim the mayor disputed.

The spokeswoman, Julia Savel, said in a July 20 text to a City Hall spokeswoman, Kate Smart, that she could not “work for a commish who is ok with covering up something illegal,” according to messages obtained by WNBC-TV and published Wednesday night.

Savel, 27, was fired last Friday.

She confirmed the authenticity of the messages and told the Daily News that she believed she was fired without Adams’ knowledge.

“I think they didn’t know,” she said by phone Thursday, describing City Hall officials. She worked in the Social Services Department for about six months.

Adams defended Jenkins, and said the commissioner did not hide information. “He was of the mindset that we were in compliance — which we all felt,” Adams said as he left an event in lower Manhattan. “When we weren’t, we stated it.”

“We stated that we dropped the ball,” Adams said.

Adams publicly acknowledged on July 21 that the city had broken local law by failing to house four asylum-seeking families, as the city shelter system buckled under the weight of the housing crisis and an influx of migrants sent from Texas by Gov. Greg Abbott.

The four South and Central American families slept on the floor of a Bronx temporary housing intake center, Adams confirmed on July 21.

According to text screenshots, Savel told Smart she knew about the violations as early as July 18. In a July 20 message, Savel wrote to Smart that Jenkins “was trying to not tell” City Hall about the violations, adding, “I got yelled at for telling you.”

“Oh Jesus,” Smart texted back.

Savel in turn wrote: “He didn’t want anyone to know and didn’t think it would get out.”

In a group chat with Jenkins and Smart earlier that day, Savel asked if City Hall knew about people sleeping at the intake center.

“Isn’t this the same concern that you flagged for Kate yesterday?” Jenkins wrote.

Savel wrote to Smart in a separate chat that she had “no [expletive] idea how to work” with a boss who “just lies,” referencing Jenkins.

City Hall rejected the notion of a coverup and said that Jenkins had relayed information about the intake mess up to the mayor’s office on July 18, but did not realize it constituted a violation of the law.

Fabien Levy, the mayor’s press secretary, suggested in a statement that City Hall was facing “slanderous accusations when we have spent nearly three months providing shelter to almost 5,000 asylum seekers.”

The Social Services Department issued a statement saying that it values “transparency and accountability in all that we do and continue to learn from every experience as part of a new administration.”

Asked if Jenkins had misled him, Adams said simply: “No.”

“Gary’s doing a great job,” the mayor said. He said of Savel’s firing, “Commissioners determine who their team is going to be. He determines that.”

Smart did respond to a request for comment on the disclosure of the texts.

Jenkins was appointed commissioner of the city’s Social Services Department at the outset of Adams’ administration. He worked for more than 30 years in the city’s Human Resources Administration before rising to his current post this year.

The Social Service Department oversees the Human Resources Administration and the Homeless Services Department.

The city is facing daunting challenges around homelessness, with rents soaring and housing scarce. About 50,000 homeless people lay their heads in the city’s main shelter system.

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