[Hpn] New York, NY - Mayor Wants Investigation Into Homeless Boy's Death - New York Times - August 9, 2002

Editor Editor <hccjr@bellsouth.net>
Fri, 09 Aug 2002 07:54:36 -0500


Mayor Wants Investigation Into Homeless Boy's Death 

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by NINA BERNSTEIN - New York Times - August 9, 2002

Calling the suicide of a teenager in a homeless shelter a tragedy,
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg asked commissioners to investigate
several aspects of the case yesterday, including how long it took
for an ambulance to arrive at the scene, and whether better
coordination between the city's social service agencies could
prevent similar incidents.

"We as a society clearly fell down," Mr. Bloomberg said. "There's
no question about that. The question is, what can we do to keep
it from happening again?"

On Monday, the teenager, Jason-Eric Wilson, 16, took an overdose
of medication in the shelter hotel room where he, his 10-year-old
sister, and his father, Eric Wilson, 48, had been placed
temporarily after spending most of two days and a night in the
shelter application office of the Emergency Assistance Unit in
the Bronx. Jason was schizophrenic.

Wednesday night, city records show, 90 families with 173 children
stayed overnight on the floors of the unit, despite court orders
outlawing the practice. 

Among 189 families who bounced between
one-night placements and the unit, lawyers for the homeless said,
were 69 with family members who, like Jason's, had been found by
a city nurse to include medically fragile family members,
pregnant women or newborn babies.

"That's just the problem," said Steven Banks, the Legal Aid
Society lawyer who has represented homeless families in the
longstanding litigation, and who has filed a motion seeking a
finding of contempt against the commissioner for homeless
services, Linda I. Gibbs. "Families that are extraordinarily
vulnerable are being caught up in the horrible harmful process
that's unlawful."

Mr. Bloomberg said he had full confidence in Ms. Gibbs, and noted
that despite record demand by homeless families, she had managed
to provide shelter for the Wilsons.

City lawyers met last night with the court's special master to
discuss a remedy and a schedule for the contempt proceedings,
which will begin with a hearing on Aug. 21.

When Jason-Eric Wilson went into convulsions after taking the
pills on Monday afternoon, his father tried to get an ambulance
for his son. 

Because an ambulance did not arrive, he said he
tried to get his son to the hospital himself, but the boy
collapsed in the street. 

Emergency dispatch records corroborated
much of Mr. Wilson's account of repeated calls to 911 and over
all, a wait of 38 minutes between the first call and the time an
ambulance arrived at the hotel, said Francis Gribbon, a Fire
Department spokesman.

He explained that the first call, from the desk clerk at 4:13
p.m., was given a low priority because the problem was described
as a seizure. But two minutes later, he added, a text message
from the 911 operator specified "an aided male who can't
breathe."

"The call should have been upgraded, but it was not upgraded,"
Mr. Gribbon said. "That's part of the investigation."

Had the call been assigned the appropriate priority, Mr. Gribbon
said, an available paramedic unit could have been dispatched
quickly. Instead, the request was put on hold, and was not
answered by an ambulance until 4:51 p.m. By then, however,
another ambulance had taken Jason to Columbia-Presbyterian
Medical Center from a bus stop on 148th Street, where his father
took him in a frantic effort to find transportation. It arrived
at 4:35 and reached the hospital 10 minutes later.

Other agencies investigating their role in the case include the
Human Resources Administration, which denied the homeless
family's application for emergency food stamps and cash aid on
July 30 and had earlier cut off their Medicaid coverage, and the
Administration for Children's Services, which had interviewed the
family several times last month.

"This is a deeply disturbing tragedy and we are launching a full
investigation," said David Neustadt of the Human Resources
Administration.


Copyright 2002 The New York Times 
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