By MARIE FIERO
Two weeks after homeless shelter residents had sued the city for allegedly being poisoned by expired food, the City Council held a meeting on Thursday to discuss how to tackle the problem food quality in shelters.
The Council Committee on General Welfare heard testimony from city officials from the Department of Homeless Services and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, officials from advocacy groups for the homeless, and several homeless shelter residents.
“I never know what’s going to be in the food,” said shelter resident Sharifa Harvey. “So I rarely eat anything that shows up.” Harvey said that her religious accommodations have not been taken seriously at the city’s homeless shelters, and so she must spend the little money she has on food.
“The recent news reporting that six people became violently ill after eating food suspected to be spoiled in Auburn Family Residence in Fort Greene, and many of the reported incidents before it underscores the need for the city to insure that the food served is safe and healthy,” said committee chairman Stephen Levin.
In October, four residents of Auburn were admitted to the hospital after eating what they say was intentionally mislabeled chicken salad. They say a fake expiration date was placed over the original, which showed that the food had actually gone bad more than a month earlier.
“Due to pending litigation, we cannot comment on the particulars of the issues at the time,” said the medical director of DOH, Dr. Fabienne Laraque, “but what I can say is that DOH and DHMH testing from the incident show that the food was negative for bacterial pathogens.” she continued, in a denial of the claims.
Residents recalled past meals of “green eggs,” “slop,” and chicken patties made of “chicken scraps” in their testimonies. They said shelter staff would laugh at them for requesting religious or dietary accommodations. Some said that their current health issues stem from their poor diets at the shelters.
Lily, who wound up at the shelters after escaping domestic abuse, declined to give her last name. She said the shelter could not accommodate her gluten free diet and allergies.
“They didn’t have any of these things that I could eat. So, I had like five apples a day and a carton of milk. And I was going to school and I was not able to focus whatsoever.” said Lily, who is a full-time Kingsborough Community College student.
She brought her frozen dinner from the night before and showed that the rice was stale, and that the portions were small. The dinner also had no expiration date on it.
“I went to the hospital multiple times because I was told for example that the pasta was tofu,” she said. “But nothing changed.”