Homeless headcount varies as problem persists

HUDSON–Homelessness, veterans’ vans and a shortage of home health aides highlighted the Columbia County Board of Supervisors Human Services Committee meeting November 18.

At that meeting county Social Services Commissioner Kary Jablonka and Hudson 4th Ward Supervisor William Hughes, Jr. (D), discussed the different ways service providers define “homeless.” The Department of Social Services (DSS), Mr. Jablonka reported, counts the number of hotel rooms it uses to lodge households whose members have sought housing from to the department. At the end of October, this number was 24.

But schools, Mr. Hughes said, have counted 165 children with no permanent address. This number most likely comes from more than 24 households.

Meanwhile, Columbia Opportunities, Inc., the local independent social services agency, comes up with its own count of homeless individuals during its annual one-day census. Each count uses a different definition of “homeless.” The definition differences, Mr. Jablonka noted, make it hard to know the real extent of homelessness.

Still, the DSS follows its monthly counts of households the agency lodges. “We try to identify patterns in who they are,” Mr. Jablonka said.

Even though the 24 hotel households the DSS accounted for in October is lower than the 29 it had in September and the 54 it had last fall, Mr. Jablonka called homelessness “a big problem. Homelessness is a larger issue than how many people we pay hotels for.”

For one thing, he said, there are unaccompanied children, youths who leave home—sometimes a home with horrible conditions—before the age of 18 and end up couch surfing where they can.

Mr. Hughes said that this situation is related to poor academic performance and low graduation rates. “If they don’t have a stable residence, there is less chance for passing grades and less chance of graduation.”

“We have had conversations” with school officials about this, Mr. Hughes added.

“School is sometimes the one stable part of a kid’s life,” Mr. Jablonka said. “It provides teachers, tutors, guidance counselors and social workers. Kids who stay connected to their school graduate at a greater rate.”

When Gary Flaherty, executive director of the Veterans Service Department, spoke to the committee, he said that the two vans his department uses to transport clients to and from medical and other appointments are currently “on the road.” Both vehicles have broken down recently and a garage had called the smaller van hopeless.

But Mr. Flaherty said he sent his driver to the garage and got the van fixed. Meanwhile, the larger van, which can carry wheel chairs, had its engine replaced and now “runs fine.”

Not everyone is convinced veterans advocate Al Wassenhove of Ghent told the meeting that the Veterans Service Department still needs a new vehicle. “Veterans don’t ask for much, and their service to the country never ends,” he said. “It’s a disgrace we don’t have a better vehicle. A number of veterans have come up to me about the bus,” he said. “A few weeks ago, some were stuck in Albany because of a flat tire. Why are we running a van with 260,000 miles on it? How come the Health Care Consortium just got new wheel chair accessible busses? The county has been in good financial shape for two years. How come we can’t get $50,000 for a veterans’ van? ”

Earlier this year Mr. Flaherty wrote to State Senator Kathleen Marchione(R-43rd), requesting $126,000 for a new 12-passenger 2-wheel chair van.

In other business before the committee:

  • Kevin McDonald, administrator of the county Office for the Aging, reported “We started having problems providing home health aides, a couple of months ago. He added that “We used four agencies, but one has staffing problems, and another doesn’t want short term assignments. Therefore, we have reached out to other agencies.”

Mr. Hughes suggested they look at part-time rather than full-time aides.

Mr. Jablonka said that home health aides enable people to stay in their homes and stay connected to their communities. Besides, care from home health aides is less expensive than placing a person in a nursing home

  • Mr. Jablonka said the DSS had “reallocated” employees to departments with a backlog of cases. And its most recent number of children in foster care is 92
  • Fair Housing officer William Fisher reported that a landlord had turned off electricity in order to pressure a tenant to move out.

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