Motel flaws displace nine

County pulls operating permit where homeless men live

GREENPORT–The Columbia County Department of Health has revoked the operating permit of the Sunset Motel and Suites, 3559 Route 9, according to Paul Mossman, commissioner of the county Department of Social Services (DSS).

As a result, nine men housed there by DSS were moved on January 23 to other motels in Columbia and Rensselaer counties, said Mr. Mossman. No women or children were housed at the Sunset or moved from there, he said.

The move came after a January 18 meeting held at the Department of Health, said John Florio, a Greenport code enforcement officer who attended the meeting along with representatives from the departments of health, social services and the county attorney’s office, along with Greenport Supervisor John Porreca, and, by teleconference, representatives from the state Department of Health.

Nancy Winch, county public health director, declined to comment for this article, saying only that “our inspection results are pending and it would be inappropriate to speak about them now.”

Mr. Florio would say only that the Sunset had “numerous violations of building, property and fire codes. Complaints had come from residents of the Sunset and adjoining property owners.

“They had plenty of time to correct those violations, but it hadn’t been taken care of,” he said.

A woman who works for the Sunset who did not wish her name published, said that the motel was late applying for a renewal of its health department permit, not that the permit had been revoked. The motel has been doing “a lot of work” on rooms, she said. Out of a total of 30 rooms, “some rooms were out of order, but not all,” she said. “We met with the departments two days ago [January 30], we fixed certain things.” Renovations continue, she said.

Mr. Mossman said he hoped the move would be short term. “In the absence of a temporary housing program in Columbia County we’ve used motels over the years, which puts further demands on our resources and doesn’t provide the residents with services for transition or to prevent future homelessness,” he said.

The men are transported to work or appointments by DSS staff or “other arrangements,” said Mr. Mossman.

The bigger picture, he added, “is that we’re working toward a comprehensive plan for all the homeless in Columbia County, not only emergency and temporary, but also transitional and permanent, safe, affordable housing.

“The challenge is in ‘affordable,’” he said. Housing has become expensive in Columbia County, he said, and those who receive assistance often cannot afford it.

Last year, CARES Inc., based in Albany, worked with the county to put together a 10-year strategic plan to address homelessness. “They outlined steps we could take, and we’re beginning to take those steps, which include dealing with emergency housing needs,” said Mr. Mossman.

“We’re able to meet the demand,” he added, “but barely.”

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