EDITORIAL: What’s a ‘civic motel’?

IT SHOULD COME AS NO SURPRISE that we’re homeowners. Nearly three out of every four of the roughly 32,800 housing units in Columbia County is a single family, “detached” dwelling, according to the Census Bureau. It’s hard to imagine life without a home.

That may explain why the county hasn’t had a designated place for people who have no home. There’s also the relatively small number of people identified as homeless. Not to mention the fear generated by the incorrect stereotypes we have of people labeled “homeless,” especially if some of those folks might live nearby.

Tina Sharpe is executive director of Columbia Opportunities, Inc., the county’s Community Action Program. Her agency’s mission is to “solve poverty” here, and she’s also co-chair of the Columbia Greene Housing Coalition. In a Letter to the Editor last week, she reports that as of the end of January the Columbia County Department of Social Services had found temporary emergency housing for 11 families, including 18 children, and altogether there were 100 people in emergency housing, otherwise known as motels.

There are good motels and not-so-good motels. But the biggest problem with housing people temporarily in motels is that many motels are far from the jobs and shopping and schools and medical care and counseling that people who have lost their homes desperately need to get their lives together and find a permanent place to live.

Now there’s a new plan from the Galvan Foundation, which is refurbishing a former motel on Routes 9/23 about five miles southeast of the City of Hudson for use as a “civic motel.” The motel will have 25 rooms and Galvan is asking the county to pay a market rate ($85/night) to house temporarily homeless people at its motel. Not everybody would be eligible for a room at the civic hotel, even if rooms are available; the idea is to make the place child-friendly.

In exchange for a commitment to pay Galvan as the preferred shelter provider, the foundation is promising to provide 24/7 staffing, security, transportation and other services. The civic motel will also offer a common kitchen and “computer connections.”

The Greenport site is a short drive to Hudson and to Columbia-Greene Community College; the Hannaford supermarket is within walking distance, although it requires crossing the busy highway in two places.

A private school for young children is across the highway. The school has issued a wary but measured statement about the prospects of having the civic motel as its neighbor. Other neighbors may have concerns. Galvan should expect opposition.

The Galvan Foundation has made outstanding contributions to Hudson. The new Hudson Area Library is the most visible. The foundation says it operates 180 public housing units in the county. There are skeptics. The foundation or other entities owned by T. Eric Galloway, a real estate developer, and Henry van Ameringen own scores of properties in Hudson and there are complaints that some of the properties are abandoned eyesores. There is also concern that having so many properties off the market drives up the cost of local housing.

By local standards the scale of the projects associated with the Galvan Foundation suggest the City of Hudson and, to a lesser extent, the county, have become the subject of a social engineering experiment. We just haven’t been told what it is that Galvan has in mind for us.

It’s not scary. But it is kind of weird.

The county Board of Supervisors has a draft agreement with the Galvan Civic motel. It should be approved at the next meeting. The foundation is offering a service the county should have. Weird or not, who else has come up with a plan for sheltering people who have lost their homes, offering them a clean, safe and reasonably convenient facility?

But if the county is going to pay for a long-term commitment to the Galvan Civic Motel, it should also agree on reporting requirements that allow officials and the public to measure whether this project is delivering on its promise.

The county has seen plenty of good ideas go nowhere. What distinguishes this project is not only the smart tactics the Galvan Civic Motel will use to solve this aspect of poverty. Tina Sharpe and her colleagues help people who are more down on their luck than most of us will ever be. They allow them a chance to put their lives together again. If these public servants believe the Galvan Civic Motel will help in this task, it’s worth a try.

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