25 June 2009

New Face of Homelessness: Hardworking, Healthy and Addiction-Free

Recently Homeless Don't Fit Classic Sterotype
by Stephanie Sy
ABC News
June 20, 2009

On a busy street in Charlotte, N.C., a clean-cut woman stood on the sidewalk wearing a handwritten sign: "MOTHER OF THREE -- LOST MY JOB, ABOUT TO BE EVICTED, PLEASE HELP ME."

She said she was from the neighboring city of Kannapolis and didn't want to give her name out of fear her children would find out that she is begging on the street. She'd lost her job as a store clerk and blames the economy for not being able to find a new job. Panhandling was the only way to pay her rent, she said.

The woman is an extreme case of a growing trend -- Americans who find themselves on the brink of homelessness after losing their jobs. The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that, because of the recession, as many as a million additional Americans may become homeless in the next two years.

For lower-income working families, it means one poor decision can rapidly deteriorate into a maelstrom of debt and financial problems.

Many of the newly homeless do not fit the stereotype of homelessness. They may be hard-working, healthy and addiction-free.

The Jurado family has been technically homeless for six months. Pat Jurado and her husband, who preferred to remain anonymous, are supporting two sons, ages 2 and 5.

Even with dual incomes, with both spouses making about $16 an hour, the Jurados struggled to pay the bills in Paterson, N.J.

"He was working eight hours, I was working eight hours a day, but it still wasn't enough," said Jurado. "I felt like I needed a change."

Noticing more experienced co-workers getting laid off and thinking she could be next, Pat Jurado decided to move the family to Charlotte, N.C., where she thought she had lined up a higher paying job in accounts receivable and payable. She also expected the cost of living to be less in North Carolina.

But once the Jurados got to Charlotte, the position had been filled. With no savings and no home, the Jurados were forced to move in with a relative. Ten people crowded into a three-bedroom apartment.

More and more families are economizing by doubling-up in a single home, but for the Jurados, it was an unmanageable situation.

"It was chaos," said Pat Jurado. "We were literally on top of each other. We had a lot of bumping heads."

Depending on Public Assistance for the First Time
The Jurados were saved from having to go to a shelter by the local charity A Child's Place. The organization works with many of the 3,000 children in Charlotte-Mecklenberg public schools who are homeless and helps their families obtain everything from housing to health insurance.

The Jurados were given a two-bedroom apartment for six months rent-free.

"Sometimes folks just need a ... period where they can get back on their feet, where they can save some money for a [rent] deposit," said Annabelle Suddreth, the organization's executive director.

Jurado said she's never had to depend on charity or public assistance.

"I've been working since I was 19, and I'm 33 now. This is the first time that I haven't worked for six months," she said. "I don't want to be in this place. ... This is not one of my dreams."

Suddreth said many of the families her organization works with are not to blame for their financial plight.
"Whether it was an illness, the loss of a job, trusting in a subprime mortage loan that went wrong ... so many times a lot of these folks are just a victim of circumstance," said Suddreth.

A Child's Place has made the Jurados one of the more fortunate families. Across the country, homeless shelters are overflowing, tent cities are cropping up on the West Coast, and people are living in cars.

When given an assignment to draw a picture of his home, one child in Charlotte asked a volunteer whether he could draw the parking lot where his mother parked the family van every night.

Homeless Numbers Increasing
The effects of homelessness on children can be devastating. They may be twice as likely to get sick, fall behind two or three grade levels, and face mental and emotional problems.

"The numbers are increasing because of the economic challenge," said Suddreth. "The needs are growing. Where we once used to focus on what the child needs to be successful in school, now we're looking at basic needs like food."

Many of the nation's new homeless are also cropping up in pay-by-week motels.

Adrienne Carothers makes about $12 an hour as a teacher's assistant. You would never suspect she is homeless, but she has been living in a cramped motel room since March.

A single mother with three grown children, Carothers has always struggled to support the family. The final straw was when she recently sunk a month's pay into fixing up a rental that, she said, she was later unfairly evicted from.

With nothing left for another security deposit, she moved into a motel. Carothers said the wait list for public housing is too long.

To make matters worse, she recently was told she might not have a job next school year.

Carothers has gotten a part-time job for the summer at the YMCA that pays $8 an hour, not nearly enough to pay for the motel.

When asked what she'd do next, she could only say, "I'm not sure. Do I worry about it? Yeah, I worry about it every day. ... I break down and have to cry sometimes, because I don't see a way out."

Copyright © 2009 ABC News Internet Ventures

24 June 2009

More news

City seeks moratorium on homeless shelters
June 24, 2009

HUDSON — At a special meeting of the Hudson City Common Council Tuesday night, the council voted unanimously to enact a new local law establishing a one year moratorium on the “expansion of existing, and the creation of new, transitional housing and homeless shelters, in excess of four units, within the city.”

Charles Williams suggested for shelter
Proposal subject to Common Council approval
June 23, 2009

HUDSON — Hudson officials announced Monday, a proposal, pending Common Council approval, to sell the vacant Charles Williams school building, on the corner of Second and Robinson streets, to the county for use as transitional housing for the county’s homeless women, children and intact families.

Committees reviewing costs for renovations, construction
June 23, 2009

HUDSON — At a county building and facilities meeting on Monday, Chairman Roy Brown announced that an “Opinion of Cost” solicitation is being prepared for the renovation of the former Ockawamick School building. Another opinion of cost solicitation is being prepared for the construction of a new, 40,000-square-foot office building and parking garage at the intersection of Columbia Street and Fourth Street in the city of Hudson.

From the editorial page

Start over with St. Charles
The Columbia Paper editorial
June 22, 2009

MY, MY. IF THIS COUNTY gets any more efficient it will make more money than it spends, and everybody who lives here will get a big fat dividend check at the end of the year instead of a tax bill. Sounds like paradise.

You might think the county is well on its way to this mythical goal based on the crowing this week from the leadership of the Board of Supervisors over its latest proposal. Board Chairman Art Baer (R-Hillsdale) and his supporters believe the taxpayers could save as much as $400,000 a year to house, feed and transport our neediest neighbors if the county leases the St. Charles Hotel-the only sizeable hotel in the county-as an emergency housing facility. The hotel would also become a satellite office for the Department of Social Services (DSS) after that department moves to Claverack in 2011.

That's a big savings, and the figures have a basis in fact. But the way this proposal surfaced suddenly out of nowhere gives it a nasty odor that won't go away anytime soon.

The St. Charles proposal establishes a concrete link between two challenges facing the DSS: the controversial plan to move its headquarters out of Hudson, where the people who need the department's services are concentrated, and the growing number of people in the county who need the emergency shelter services provided by the DSS.

Start with the statistics: in 2008, the county averaged 51 people living in 41 different rooms scattered around Columbia and Greene counties paid for by the DSS. In March of this year, the census was 88 people in 69 rooms rented by the county. Comparing one winter month to a full year's average can be misleading, but the general trend reflects these hard times.

It cost the county $1.2 million last year to house, feed and transport people who need emergency help, and the costs this year will undoubtedly go up. The costs are driven in part by the price of the motel rooms used for emergency shelter. Right now the county pays between $65 and $95 a night for rooms at private motels.

The county estimates it could lease all 34 rooms in the St. Charles for less than $43 a night, a big savings. And the price includes the first floor, which the DSS would turn into an office space. That's where the DSS would put its "satellite" office when the department leaves Hudson for the Claverack countryside six miles away. The satellite office is supposed to cushion the impact of the move on people who need emergency services but who won't have an easy way of getting to the new DSS headquarters. An added benefit to the first floor of the hotel is that it's six times larger than the space in another building the county originally intended to use for the satellite office. That means more services would be available to people in Hudson.

So what's not to like about a proposal that officials promote as safer, more convenient emergency housing at a lower cost?

For one thing, it's not clear how warehousing roughly half the county's population of people in need of emergency shelter will affect them, the neighborhood, the business community and city schools (many of the homeless "people" are children).

The impact isn't clear because this proposal was hatched in such secrecy that the mayor and other city officials knew nothing about it until an hour or so before the county released it to the public. Think about the arrogance it takes to propose a major infrastructure change like this without any input from the citizens of Hudson, who must live with the result. What breathtaking contempt for the public. County officials call it only a proposal, but no matter what they call it, the plan is now tainted as a deal done behind closed doors.

Though the proposal to convert the only hotel rooms in the county into an emergency homeless shelter comes packaged as a higher good, it feels like a betrayal of the public trust. It dictates what must happen before the people hear a full and open airing of the facts. Our elected leaders assure us they have the best of intentions, but their actions exhibit disdain for the people they've sworn to serve and reveal their willingness to abandon the messy process of democracy for methods that smack of authoritarian rule.

21 June 2009

In the news

Commissioner reveals number of homeless to be housed
by Francesca Olsen
June 20, 2009

HUDSON — Controversy surrounding the St. Charles Hotel and the possibility of it becoming a spot for emergency housing continues. With 34 rooms in the hotel and 74 eligible members in the caseload as of June, the issue is becoming more complicated.

According to Social Services Commissioner Paul Mossman, there are 74 homeless residents in the current caseload: one couple without children, 29 single males, eight single women, six single women with children, and four “intact families” — a mother and father and children. Within this group, 21 children are currently housed.

Social Services is currently using 14 motels, including three in Greene County, for emergency housing. With 34 rooms and no option for single males, the hotel may not be used at full capacity.

“We have enough families, single women and single women with children to easily fill the St. Charles,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Art Baer, R-Hillsdale. “As far as I know, there’s no issue on that.” ...

“There’s no figures that can qualify using a landmark hotel as a homeless shelter,” said Hudson Mayor Rick Scalera. “There’s no excuse to use the St. Charles Hotel as a homeless shelter.” ...


The June 15 Department of Social Services press release announcing the proposed "use of the St. Charles Hotel for emergency housing and satellite office" can be found here.

County looks at St. Charles for homeless shelter
by John Mason
June 16, 2009

COLUMBIA COUNTY - The 139-year-old St. Charles Hotel, 16 Park Place, Hudson, may soon be the home of the homeless in Columbia County. Social Services Commissioner Paul Mossman got approval from the Board of Supervisors' Human Services Committee Monday "to negotiate and prepare a lease agreement with the St. Charles Hotel for Department of Social Services purposes."

These purposes are two, emergency housing and DSS offices. Mossman said he is investigating entering a long-term, seven-year lease with a company interested in purchasing the St. Charles. The arrangement could save the county $400,000 a year, he said.

In a sentiment echoed by other Hudson elected officials, Mayor Rick Scalera criticized the county for "deliberating and negotiating over something that's going to take place in the city without including city officials. It isn't done anywhere."

The resolution passed Monday still has to be approved by the Finance Committee and the full Board of Supervisors.

To deal with the ballooning problem of homelessness in the county, Mossman said, the hotel's second and third floors, with 17 rooms each, would be used for emergency housing for homeless persons. The first floor, with 3,100 square feet, would be dedicated to a Hudson satellite office for DSS.

The owner, Mossman said, would be East Coast Realty, who would buy the hotel from its present owner, provide the hotel rooms to the county, and provide security and a 24/7 desk clerk.

Combining DSS with emergency housing would make its services easily available to a large number of its clientele, and would "minimize planned transportation costs to Ockawamick," Mossman said. The main DSS office is slated to be moved to the former Ockawamick School on Route 217 in Claverack, six miles from Hudson. A bus that would have offered DSS clients free transport, making seven round-trips daily between Hudson and Ockawamick, was projected to cost the county $100,000 a year.

Currently, homeless persons are housed in hotels around the county, which is costly to the county both for the hotel stays and transportation.

The emergency housing on the second and third floors would go first to single-parent families, then two-parent families, then to single women, Mossman said. For safety issues, single males would remain in other hotels.

Mossman stressed that this is a first step in a plan to centralize housing for the homeless. Single males, he said, may at some point be housed in centralized transitional housing providing supportive services such as drug treatment; the Rev. Peter Young of Albany operates such facilities and has spoken to Human Services Committee members about possible sites in the county.

As for the first floor, the commissioner said the satellite office will provide help with emergency housing, applications for temporary assistance, food stamps, Medicaid and employment services.

But 3,100 square feet, he said, isn't room enough for "every service we provide at DSS." So, he said, he has been trying to minimize the need for Hudson residents to travel to Ockawamick. "We took a survey of our high-end user programs, and what are the needs of the families that come through the doors," he said. "If someone has public assistance, their need to come to the building is minimal - once a year." If they're on food stamps, they can phone in or mail their recent information, he said.

The satellite office would also be a document drop-off site for applicants.

"Nothing has been decided or finalized," Mossman said. "This was all based on information gathered over a couple of months. I think it's a win-win as the first stage in a multi-step process."

In addition to saving money, the centralization would also facilitate better supervision of and security for the clients, he said.

"If we let an opportunity like this go by us, I'll be coming back to the Board of Supervisors next year," Mossman said, "saying homelessness is up 20 to 30 percent from last year."

The commissioner first unveiled the plan in a power point presentation to an executive session of a joint meeting of the Human Services and Buildings and Facilities committees, in a room packed as well with several supervisors on neither committee. Meanwhile, a large group of county residents, asked to leave the exclusive meeting, waited for more than an hour in the hallway of 401 State St., where Scalera filled them in on what was transpiring.

He noted that if, as Mossman suggested, the satellite office would satisfy 75 percent of Hudson's social services needs, the plan meant more than 20,000 visits to the St. Charles from DSS clients annually.

"You're taking a landmark hotel," he said. "[Baer] is claiming it hasn't been kept up that way."

"It's not that debilitated," said Alderwoman Wanda Pertilla, D-2nd Ward.

"It's another decision behind closed doors," Scalera said.

"DSS is a beast," Pertilla said. "There's no way the St. Charles could hold the process these families go through. These families are anxious, nervous, there's no way this would work."

"Hudson's been left out consistently," said Linda Mussmann.

Scalera said his position has always been that the city would take transitional housing if DSS would stay in the city, but not if it moved to Ockawamick.

"This is the slap in the face I've been biting all weekend," he said.

Joan Steiner said the Claverack Town Board had traded away its right to have a say in the process for "two acres we don't want," referring to the acreage at Ockawamick on which the town could build its town hall within the next decade.

Howard Brandston of Claverack said it doesn't fit with the town's Comprehensive Plan, and Hudson Alderwoman Carole Osterink, D-First Ward, said it also doesn't fit with the county Strategic Plan put together by Baldwin, Bell and Green in 2008.

That study described a lack of hotel rooms in the county as a major limitation to the tourism economy.

"Suddenly, you're going to take a landmark hotel and repurpose it," she said. "It doesn't make sense. Remember that Ken Flood wasn't part of the discussion."

In a press release, Board of Supervisors Chairman Art Baer, R-Hillsdale, praised the plan as both more cost-effective and more secure for the clients than the present situation.

But Brandston said, "Nobody's looking at planning."

Chamber of Commerce President David Colby said county Planning and Economic Development Director Ken Flood "didn't know anything about it."

Flood did not deny this.

"The Board of Supervisors set policy," he said. "I fully support their policies."

He said he's working with the Tourism Board on ways to attract the construction of a full-service hotel.

"The market would demand it be in the Hudson area, whether near the new Hudson park or in the city," he said. As for transitional housing, he said locating it near the services people need, such as grocery stores, medical and social services, and co-locating it near the social services satellite office all seem reasonable, and said, "That's where planning, community involvement and decision-making play a role in the location of transitional housing."

After the executive session, a public meeting of the Human Services Committee was conducted in the supervisors' chambers on the first floor, in which Mossman gave his power point presentation again.

Supervisors William C. Hughes Jr., D-Hudson4, and Ed Cross, D-Hudson2, both chastised Mossman for not including anyone from Hudson in the decision-making process.

Noting that the county has a problem with homeless people taking up hotel rooms, Scalera said, "So, we're taking up 69 hotel rooms in a county starving for hotel rooms, and yet we're taking 34 more hotel rooms. This isn't the answer: We need to get serious about a homeless shelter."

City Treasurer Eileen Halloran asked if there was data about the root cause of homelessness.

"Years ago, there were certain landlords who rented to people on public assistance," said DSS Director of Income Maintenance Lynn Kutski. "They've sold their properties, they're no longer renting them. There's just no affordable housing: Where are you going to get an apartment for $328 a month?"

Later, Hudson elected officials and politicians expressed their outrage.

Pertilla said the decision, made under the radar, was a disservice to her constituents.

"The majority of citizens that frequent Social Services are from my ward," she said. "It's too bad we can't sit down and come to a compromise. It's getting ugly."

"The assumption is they can affront Hudson and it doesn't matter to the rest of the county," said Don Moore, Democratic candidate for Common Council president. "They're looking at this as a piece of the bureaucratic puzzle ... but not at the economic impact on this city and the rest of the county ... I can't believe they adequately reviewed the numbers."

"I'm getting completely fed up with the idea that the county knows best what's best for the city of Hudson," Scalera told the Register-Star. "You cannot take a landmark hotel and turn it into a homeless shelter: It can't and it shouldn't be done. The county has been using hotel rooms for 20 years. Over the course of 20 years, I believe a bell would have gone off, 'Get serious about building a homeless shelter.' Instead, they look at this as a great opportunity, the St. Charles is for sale. This is another one we're going to fight."

Hughes conveyed similar sentiments.

"The county has no right to come in when we in the city are trying to develop our business, through our Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, which will lead to the development of the waterfront, leading into Warren Street," he said. "Having a landmark building right smack dab at the end of the business corridor turned into a homeless shelter is an outrage. This whole thing is a fairy tale: It's almost laughable, if these guys weren't serious."

Hughes said he is not opposed to siting emergency housing in the city.

"We could have sat down and found a suitable location where people could agree to it," he said. "To have it forced down our throats this way is totally unfair."

But Mossman said the plan would be good for all county residents.

"If I can cut the costs of a room rent by 45 to 50 percent, that's a big savings," he said. "Plus being closer to services, and being able to work with individuals and families - it would be more efficient."

04 June 2009

"I look at these graphs and see a lot of sacrificial lambs for the county."
Supervisor Ed Cross, D-Hudson2
Bottom Line Community Workshop
Shiloh Baptist Church
June 3, 2009
(Click on images to enlarge and/or print.)

03 June 2009

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02 June 2009

Just the facts

  • No other county in New York has its main human services office outside the county seat.
  • Columbia County DSS had 33,000 visitors in 2008; the majority lived in the 12534 zip code.
  • People are struggling, so the number of DSS visitors will not diminish anytime soon. In 2008, the county expended $!.2 million on housing alone for the homeless, double the amount spent in 2006.
  • Approximately 30 percent of the county's residents and families living in poverty, live in Hudson.
  • Low income residents of Hudson are far more likely to be without easy access to a car or a telephone.
  • Columbia County is without a public transportation system. The Board of Supervisors did not approve a plan to transport people when the decision was made to move DSS to Claverack.
  • DSS spent $121,334.02 for taxi service in 2008.
  • Nearly half (44 percent) of DSS clients who live within the city of Hudson now walk to the agency.
  • Nearly 50 percent -- one half -- of the families with children in Hudson live below the poverty level, as compared to 16 percent countywide.
  • During one four-day period in 2008, the number of DSS clients from Claverack constituted 2 percent of the department's visitors; 48 percent were from Hudson.
  • Almost 14 percent of Hudson's senior citizens live in poverty, compared to 6.8 percent countywide.
  • The same clients that are dependent on the human services provided by the county rely on the assistance of more than 20 non-profit organizations located in or near Hudson, as well.
  • After Hudson, the next largest group visiting DSS were from Catskill (7 percent).
  • The overwhelming majority of DSS visitors (88 percent) come to the office without a scheduled appointment.
  • In 2008, Eight-nine percent (89 percent) of DSS visitors travel 30 minutes or less to reach the department; 48 percent reached the Railroad St. office in less than 15 minutes.
Source(s): DSS client traffic survey (July 21 to 25, 2008); DSS Visitor Population Survey (April 14 through June 30, 2008); Columbia Opportunities Inc.
(Click on image to enlarge and/or print.)