Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF-Manhattan) released the following statement:
“I am deeply distressed by the New York Times piece ‘Nobody Tells Daddy No’: A Housing Boss’s Many Abuse Cases, detailing nearly a dozen allegations of sexual assault and harassment made against Victor Rivera, founder and chief executive of the Bronx Parent Housing Network, by some of the organization’s employees and the women experiencing homelessness it was designed to serve. Similarly disturbing is the apparent failure of City and State agencies in oversight positions to take action to protect vulnerable women experiencing homelessness or guard against financial fraud.
“As the new Chair of the Committee on Social Services, I will use my position to shine a spotlight on the epidemic of sexual and other violence among homeless populations and ensure that our social services providers and the agencies that regulate them treat the people in their care in a lawful manner, and with dignity and respect. It is mystifying how repeated reports of financial mismanagement and worse were met with little more than a slap on the wrist by regulators, instead of a full-blown investigation with appropriate corrective action.
“This City is facing a homelessness crisis of unprecedented proportions, with more than 90,000 New York State residents sleeping on the street or in shelter each night. We rely on the work of supportive housing providers to manage the crisis and help those who struggling to get back on their feet.
“The vast majority of providers in our state are good, not-for-profit agencies whose staff members dedicate their professional lives to helping others. They can and do save lives every single day, and these providers are deserving of our support. But scarce State and City resources cannot be disbursed without any accountability, and those who are unfit to provide services must be rooted out.
“Women experiencing street homelessness are at higher-than-average risk for sexual assault and exploitation. According to a 2003 study of homeless and marginally house people, 32% of women and 38% of transgender people reported physical or sexual violence in the previous year. For women struggling with mental illness and experiencing homelessness, the lifetime risk for violent victimization is 97%.
“City and State agencies have a special responsibility to protect this vulnerable population from known harm. The article details a series of stunning failures and bureaucratic buck passing that permitted this situation to persist for far too long. The City was put on notice, not once or twice, but multiple times it seems, about Mr. Rivera’s alleged behavior, but failed to take appropriate action to stop any of it – not the alleged sexual harassment or assault or the financial fraud. This is astounding and simply unacceptable.
“Women experiencing homelessness are people with agency entitled to respect and bodily autonomy. Their bodies belong to them and are not commodities to be traded in exchange for safety or shelter. Their humanity demands that we respect them, and their vulnerability demands that we protect them. Based on the facts reported, it would seem all parties involved failed in these twin endeavors.
“No one should be forced to “laugh off” sexual harassment or assault because they fear they will lose their homes, or worse, if they do not. I am committed to seeing that necessary reforms are implemented.”
Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal is the Chair of the Committee on Social Services. She represents the 67th Assembly district, which includes the Upper West Side and Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan.