Saturday, January 28, 2023

Local homelessness rises

By Patrick Daley, Special to The Chronicle

Editor’s note: Former Chronicle staff writer and Calendar Editor Pat Daley climbs back into the saddle. This is his first Chronicle article since pre-Covid.

Local homelessness service organizations in the Glens Falls area are reporting significant increases in individuals served as temperatures have dropped and snow has fallen.

Jamie Munyon, director of the Open Door Mission on Warren Street, says that their Code Blue Emergency Shelter accommodated 35 people last Friday night. Capacity, he said, is 30. Recent volume has been “double that of previous years,” said Mr. Munyon.

Code Blue, a temporary nightly shelter, operates when wind chill reaches below 32 degrees or when 12 inches of precipitation is forecast.

Mr. Munyon said 11 individuals are currently housed in The Open Door’s year-round transitional shelter. Its “LifePath” program aims to help individuals “get out the cycles of homelessness.”

He said that altogether the transitional shelter and LifePath program will accommodate up to 52 individuals in the coming months.

Dinner at Open Door — Photo provided.

At the WAIT House in Glens Falls, which serves homeless youth ages 16 to 24 and their dependents, director Jason McLaughlin says “the numbers have increased significantly, and we are full most days.”

WAIT House can house around 10 people in its emergency shelter and 10 in its transitional living program.

The Salvation Army can make motel beds available. Major Leo Lloyd says, “With this new wave of homelessness, we absolutely don’t have the capacity,” citing a recent 50 percent increase in motel beds that the Salvation Army provides to families in need.

Additionally, said Mr. Lloyd, “What I can tell you is that 1,700 new families requested pantry service in the last six months. These are brand new families” in Warren and Washington Counties, plus South Glens Falls and Moreau, he said.

Impact of COVID measures ending

Mr. Munyon and Mr. Lloyd both cited the impact of New York State lifting its COVID eviction moratorium. “COVID has impacted our numbers,” Mr. Lloyd said.

“There was stimulus money available and there were moratoriums on evictions and utility shutoffs,” Mr. Lloyd said.

“People can’t afford their utilities. The moratorium ended and people had to settle up with the utility companies. Some people had bills going back 18 or 24 months, and now they have to add in arrears and rate increases.”

Mayor: Rising need here & elsewhere

Glens Falls Mayor Bill Collins says, “I’ve had people ask me, ‘Is homelessness in Glens Falls rising?’ No, homelessness in general is rising. I think there are many people who don’t understand that it’s a problem throughout the country, and we’re not exempt from it.”

He noted, “There is no vagrancy law” in Glens Falls. “We don’t concern ourselves with that. If we find a person sleeping in a public place, we reach out to them.”

“We’re lucky the city is home to so many service providers,” the mayor said. He said a county survey indicated Glens Falls is home to around 90 percent of the county’s non-profit services. “It’s both a blessing and a tough situation.”

Warren County Undersheriff Terry Comeau wrote in an email interview that the sheriff’s office “will do the very best they can to point homeless individuals in the right direction for assistance. Along with crisis intervention, the Sheriff’s Office has many tools that they can offer to persons in need, and we pursue the avenues we can for the homeless individuals we encounter.”

He said the sheriff’s office offers transportation to the Code Blue shelter in Glens Falls during off hours in the winter months, and during regular business hours, refers homeless individuals to the Warren County Human Services Building “to determine what assistance may be available through the agencies there.”

The Glens Falls Police Department did not respond to a request for comment, but Mr. Munyon of the Open Door said, “The Glens Falls Police are incredible. They do their best to direct individuals in the community to get help, either with our organization or other organizations.”

Both the City and the Open Door Mission plan to hire social workers in 2023 to reach out to homeless individuals.

“We want a social worker to work with the police department to get people services and get people off the street,” said Mayor Collins. He says the Common Council’s 2023 budget includes funding for the position.

Mr. Munyon says the Open Door Mission plans to hire “a street outreach member in late winter or early spring to try to find people and connect with them.”

Awareness of homeless encampments

“There are encampments of people who are homeless in the Glens Falls and Queensbury area,” said Mayor Collins. “It becomes most apparent when it gets this cold outside and the Code Blue shelter opens.”

Mr. Munyon said, “I think there are individuals that are homeless that are out in camps locally. We’re such a rural environment; it’s hard to put a finger on where they are. Last year, we did interact with a local group that was living on Prospect Mountain during the winter.”

The winter is “really hard,” he said. “Individuals that are out in the elements are putting their lives in danger.

“If we’re aware of someone being out in the elements, we work with other organizations and the Glens Falls Police Department to try to do safety checks on people and say at least, ‘Hey, we have this option for you.’”

Mr. McLaughlin at the WAIT House says an additional challenge in winter is transportation, “as many of our homeless youth, in warmer weather, either use bicycles or the trolley system to get to employment opportunities and supports.”

Goal: Full-time shelter; life path

The Salvation Army’s Mr. Lloyd said, “What the county needs is a full-time emergency shelter that can handle everyone — singles, families, mental health issues, sober and non-sober individuals.”

He estimates a facility would need a minimum of 20 men’s beds, 10 women’s beds and space for at least four families, “studios or apartment-type units.”

Open Door’s Mr. Munyon says Glens Falls needs to “have a more cohesive response to the problem. We need to collaborate with a low-barrier shelter or emergency organization.

“The Open Door is sort of playing both roles — emergency shelter and personal growth organization. We’ve gone past what we can do in a healthy way.

“In our community we’re going to continue to see an increase” in homelessness. “I think the way to address homelessness is the two-facility approach — an emergency shelter and a personal growth program or transitional shelter.”

Mr. Munyon notes, “Glens Falls has amazing services — addiction services, mental health services, resources for food security. And we have incredible police, fire and emergency departments that support these organizations.”

“Homeless is usually a chronic problem,” says Mr. Munyon. “We need to help individuals in a healthy way, not in a way that perpetuates the cycle. We want to get in deep with an individual and solve the problem, not just put Band-Aids on the things they’re experiencing.”

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