New plan seeks ways to address homelessness here

HUDSON–Nurtured by an increase in poverty and a decline in the availability of affordable housing units, homelessness in Columbia County increased over 200% since 2005, despite numerous attempts to mitigate the problem.

The county has a legal obligation to provide housing for those seeking emergency shelter and currently spends over $1 million annually on motel rooms for homeless individuals and families.

Last year Delaware County Social Services Commissioner David Moon delivered a report commissioned by the county that recommended renting apartments to accommodate several homeless persons in a group homes. But efforts to implement the plan’s recommendations by placing homeless people on Columbia Street raised ire of the community. Then it turned out that Hudson has a law that requires 24/7 supervision in such facilities, and that brought the new effort to a standstill.

Last week the County Board of Supervisors approved a different plan, The Columbia County Plan to End Homelessness, drawn up by Cares, Inc. and released last winter.

On May 11, Adam Kirkman, a director of the Technical Assistance Unit for Cares, Inc. in Albany, led a group that included county officials in a conversation about what to do next.

The plan received endorsements that indicate broad support among local not-for-profit organizations in addition to the Board of Supervisors, the Department of Social Services, Department of Human Services, Sheriff’s Office and the Probation Office.  Columbia Opportunities, Inc., the Mental Health Association of Columbia and Greene counties, the Special needs Program, Bishop Howard Hubbard of the Catholic Diocese of Albany, Catholic Charities Housing Office, Community Action of Greene County, the DePaul Housing Management Corporation, Albany, and the McCloskey Community Services Corporation of Albany also endorsed the plan.

“The plan is the easy part,” said Mr. Kirkman.

“Partnering is important as we move forward,” said county Commissioner of Social Services Paul Mossman. “We are reaching out to our non-profits for help with emergency housing.”

Supervisor Richard Keaveney (R-Canaan) offered to come up with a list of 10 to 15 people from around the community to serve on a committee to preserve the momentum and communication among organizations.

A discussion of funding and how to apply for grants ensued. Representatives from the non-profits said they have had success getting grants, and many in the room agreed that the plan will provide an advantage in competing for grant money to fund a permanent and more cost-effective form of housing than the motels.

“The providers of housing services here have been private not-for-profits,” said Tina Sharpe, director of Columbia Opportunities. “Officials say: We don’t want to get something started and have the funding disappear; then what happens?”

Hudson Mayor Richard Scalera and Common Council President Don Moore were present at the meeting and offered support in helping the plan move forward. Mr. Moore said the project might use the city’s grant writers.

Potential locations for permanent housing are a concern to businesses and residents alike. Dave Colby, president of The Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, expressed the desire of the business community to be kept in the loop.

This year Columbia County was successful in getting new project funding through agencies for three floating support units that include seven bedrooms and ten beds for families and one chronically homeless person, but that is just a drop in the bucket.

“That’s what you can get out of HUD these days,” said Mr. Kirkman. “This may be the last year for new project funds. We are heading toward lean times.”

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