HUDSON–Helping the homeless and the difficulties that task poses highlighted the Columbia County Board of Supervisors Human Services Committee meeting Wednesday, January 20, as county Department of Social Services (DSS) officials indicated that they “can’t tell now” the real number of homeless people in the county.
They know about the 54 who have contacted DSS but not the “hidden numbers,” which could be at least as high.
Supervisor Richard Scalera (D-Hudson, 5th Ward) said, “There’s a homeless explosion. It breaks my heart that we pay so much to put people in hotel rooms with barely running water.”
“We’re the one complaining about the situation,” said DSS Attorney Bob Gibson. “You’ve got to house them somewhere. It can’t be just a shelter.”
The county has housed homeless people in Greene County from time to time, but Greene County officials have said “they aren’t responsible” for local Columbia County clients, Mr. Gibson said.
He also described other barriers to addressing homelessness here, saying, “We have a recruitment problem with landlords. We need low-cost housing.”
DSS Commissioner Kary Jablonka said the county is constrained by the funds available. “People come into the system. We need to house them, feed them. Absent a massive infusion of funds, there’s not much we can do.”
Mr. Scalera said that the county has “a friend in the Capitol,” referring to Governor Andrew Cuomo. “We should take advantage of this opportunity,” he said.
Governor Cuomo, via Executive Order 151 effective January 5, directed “all local social service districts… to take all necessary steps to identify individuals reasonably believed to be homeless, … [to] move such individuals to the appropriate sheltered facilities.” He also called on shelters to “take all necessary steps to extend shelter hours, to allow individuals who are homeless to remain indoors.”
But DSS Deputy Commissioner Michelle Ublacker said, “Because of Executive Order 151, clients feel they don’t have to be compliant, and they aren’t nice to our staff.” Despite that, she added, “We don’t have anyone not housed. That includes not only the 54 officially homeless, but we also house some other people.”
Supervisor Edward Cross (D-Hudson, 2nd Ward), a minister, recounted that recently a man told him that he had been in another church for three days and that DSS had turned him down. The man asked whether he could stay in Rev. Cross’ church. “My church doesn’t have accommodations,” Rev. Cross said, and he said he apologized to the man. “I invited him to dinner. He didn’t show.”
On another DSS issue, Supervisor William Hughes (D-Hudson, 4th Ward) said, “We know that in some communities, people use Child Protective Services as a weapon. They’ll call [and report abuse] because they don’t like their neighbor across the street.”
“Unfortunately, we must investigate every case, even if we know the report is false,” Ms. Ublacker said. “But if we can verify the report is false, we tell the district attorney for prosecution.”
“It’s totally unfair to persons under that scrutiny,” said Mr. Hughes.
“It’s unfair to everybody,” agreed Ms. Ublacker and Mr. Jablonka.
Ms. Ublacker reported that the DSS has reduced its backlog of open and overdue cases. “This is a significant turnaround,” said Mr. Jablonka. “We treat people with dignity. We touch more lives than any other public agency. It’s tough, it’s challenging, it’s often unpleasant. But at the end of the day, we have a chance to make a difference in people’s lives.”
Also at the Human Services Committee meeting, Kevin McDonald, Administrator