HUDSON—Homelessness and veterans’ issues dominated the Columbia County Board of Supervisors Human Services Committee meeting Wednesday, July 20.
The number of homeless people receiving or waiting for county aid increased from 34 in June to 55 in July, the highest since March, even though the homeless count usually decreases in summer, according to the county Department of Social Services (DSS).
Supervisor William Hughes (D-Hudson, 4th Ward) said that in the middle of a recent city meeting a man walked in, saying he was homeless and asking for help.
Tackling the homeless problem is a priority for his agency, DSS Commissioner Kary Jablonka told the supervisors. The DSS has a working group devoted to the topic chaired by attorney Bob Gibson, he reported.
“We’re trying to find out who are the homeless. What are their characteristics?”
The agency also wants to know why the count increased so much from June to July.
One problem is that the DSS, the non-profit service organization Columbia Opportunities, Inc., and the school districts each counts the homeless differently.
In addition, “there are people who live in the woods,” between the DSS building, 7th Street and Spring Street in Hudson.
“There’s a tent city,” concurred DSS Deputy Commissioner Michelle Ublacker.
Putting homeless people in a hotel “is not the way to go,” said Mr. Jablonka.
“What’s your solution?” asked Supervisor Richard Scalera (D-Hudson, 5th Ward).
“Build housing,” answered Mr. Jablonka.
“There’s state and federal money to do that,” said Mr. Scalera.
“You should be in the business of building housing for them.”
Mr. Jablonka said the DSS confers with the Galvan Foundation and the Mental Health Association about housing possibilities.
Mr. Hughes indicated that handling homelessness requires plans for more than one type of facility.
“You need transitional housing, and you need emergency housing,” he said.
One problem with finding housing for DSS clients, said Ms. Ublacker, is that clients often have neither good credit nor a record of keeping apartments in good order. They may also lack a former landlord willing to give them a reference.
DSS has no authority to make landlords accept its clients, but it does help clients clean apartments they are leaving to increase their chance of getting back their security deposits.
In addition, Ms. Ublacker said, “We have to pay attention to the lack of public transportation in the county.”
With better public transportation, clients would have more options on where to live in relation to jobs.
“Even mainline transportation on Route 9 would help,” said Ms. Ublacker.
Matt Murell (R-Stockport), chairman of both the Board of Supervisors and the committee, suggested that the committee’s three Hudson members—Reverend Edward Cross, Sr. (D-2nd Ward), Mr. Hughes and Mr. Scalera—attend a meeting of the DSS homelessness working group. Mr. Scalera said that he would have to recuse himself from any meeting involving the Galvan Foundation.
Mr. Cross indicated that several times in his many years as supervisor he has heard the “same dialogue” about the homeless.
“We get almost ready. And then two years later, we have the same problem.”
On other issues, Gary Flaherty, executive director of the county Veterans Services Agency, expressed concern about both “the stunning suicide rate” and traumatic brain injury among veterans. An average of 27 veterans commit suicide a day nationwide, he reported. Recently in Columbia County, eight suicide attempts by veterans occurred, and Mr. Flaherty helped intervene in some of them.
Meanwhile, the Veterans Administration announced that 37,000 veterans originally diagnosed as not having traumatic brain injury actually do have that diagnosis. This presumably changes the benefits for which they are eligible. Mr. Flaherty praised Columbia Memorial Hospital for its treatment of veterans.
Mr. Flaherty also reported he is still having trouble accessing some necessary parts of the state computer system. Mr. Murell suggested, “Why don’t you let them give us one of their computers?”
Some companies have contacted Mr. Flaherty announcing they are interested in employing veterans. One is Ginsberg’s Foods.
Mr. Murell said he heard that the new veterans’ van should take six to seven months to build and would be ready in the fall. He regretted that Al Wassenhove of Ghent, a veteran who had advocated for the van, had not lived to see it.
The next meeting of the Human Services Committee will take place Wednesday, August 17, 5 p.m. at 401 State Street in Hudson.