Advocates for homeless back motel plan

HUDSON–The Galvan Foundation’s offer of rooms in the Galvan Civic Motel (GCM) on the border of Greenport and Livingston has drawn comment from social service providers and educators.

The foundation, which makes local grants and was founded by real estate developer T. Eric Galloway and Henry van Ameringen, wants the county to use the motel as emergency housing for people who need a roof over their head. The county would pay the cost for the room and the Galvan Foundation—which is currently refurbishing the motel–would use part of the revenue for on-site social services, including coaching people to help them find permanent housing. The motel would have enough rooms to house about a quarter of the people listed with the Columbia County Department of Social Services (DSS) as “homeless.”

Major priorities for the Galvan Civic Motel include child-friendly features and a public perception that it is a welcoming place for children. The DSS envisions housing families with children there. The motel is currently undergoing a major reconstruction by the foundation.

The site is across Route 9 from the Liberi School, which has 22 children in kindergarten through 6th grade. Therefore, according to county Social Services Commissioner Robert Gibson, his agency does not plan to assign people recently released from prison to the motel.

“It’s a huge mistake to have a public image that equates homelessness with” criminals, said Laurie Scott, executive director of Re-Entry Columbia in a phone interview February 21. “There are not ‘homeless people,’” she said, saying instead that “there are people who are currently homeless. And many of them have just fallen on hard times.”

“Less than 15% of homeless adults in Columbia County were found to suffer from alcohol or substance abuse,” said Tina Sharpe, executive director of Columbia Opportunities and co-chair and founding member of the Columbia-Greene Housing Coalition, in a conversation February 23.

Ms. Scott and Ms. Sharpe both described homelessness in Columbia County to be at crisis level.

Ms. Scott said that if Re-Entry Columbia, which helps people reintegrate into the outside world after prison, gets a client whose best interests she determines the Galvan Civic Motel could advance, she plans to discuss with the DSS the possibility of making an exception.

Most of the people who currently have no permanent home do not have criminal records and have not been to prison, but many people while in prison lose their outside-world home, she said. Having a place to live upon release is one less worry facing them. And having a stable living situation improves their chances of staying clean.

“We work a lot with people who are thrown to the outer reaches of the county, with no transportation or jobs,” said Ms. Scott.

At least the new motel, Ms. Sharpe noted, is closer to Hudson—with its services and shopping centers—“than most of the shelters the County finds.”

“To have a blanket restriction is unfair,” Ms. Scott said. “There are people coming out of prison who have done everything they’re supposed to pay their debt to society. Then many people continue to charge them for that debt after they get out. We need to look at them on a case by case basis. We have to be cautious about scapegoating, rushing to judgment. Some people getting out of prison are older and have lost family.”

Despite these concerns, “I have a lot of faith in the DSS director,” said Ms. Scott. “The DSS is dedicated to the idea of getting people stable. There are too many people in the county who are currently homeless. We support the DSS’s efforts to put them in something better than a flop. One thing Re-Entry would like to do is to help build a safe community and people get to know each other in a positive way.”

Ms. Sharpe said that the Housing Coalition has reviewed information about the Galvan Civic Motel. “Based on the information we have, I think that GCM is an innovative approach. She said it addresses one of the community’s “missing links… effective and responsive emergency shelter.”

“Finding housing can be particularly challenging, especially in rural areas,” Ms. Sharpe said. “The rental vacancy rate is very low.” Since 2000, with what she said has been an increase in home ownership, and in weekend and seasonal homes, there has been a decrease in rentals. “It’s an owner’s market. This is happening throughout Columbia County,” Ms. Sharpe said.

“One thing people think of is very isolated motels with a lack of support services and supervision,” she said. “I think some concerns have been fueled by misunderstanding about who is experiencing homelessness. Most of what they read and hear about is an urban model.”

“Some of the things they hear about the character of individuals with no home does not fit the character” of people in Columbia County who have no home, Ms. Sharpe said.

Commissioner Gibson has said he has made “a commitment that the DSS is going to be particularly careful about the adults they put in the GCM.”

The Liberi School stated on February 21: “It is important to take the time to allow this proposal to go through more public process, which engages Columbia County taxpayers as well as local community members whose lives and livelihoods will be directly impacted by this project. It is crucial that both private entities and government officials be accountable for decisions that will have lasting consequences on the lives of two of our most vulnerable populations—our county’s homeless as well as our county’s school children—who both deserve protection.”

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