Fighting Homelessness In Central New York

Photos of Homeless men on the streets of Syracuse.- Photos by Rebecca Wolcott
Photo by Rebecca Wolcott

It may be a surprise to some that in 2013, Homelessness is still a major issue, especially in the central New York region. A tough economy, high unemployment rates, and poor infrastructure, have left cities like Syracuse and Oswego looking for solutions. Both cities, along with the surrounding areas face different issues, but both have many groups and people fighting to solve the problem. Some are public government agencies looking for long term solutions, others are not-for-profit organizations helping people through their day-to-day lives, and some have a 12-year-old girl fighting to help people in need living in her community.

A plan for Onondaga County’s homelessness

[gn_dropcap style=”3″ size=”3″]S[/gn_dropcap]tatistics show that in Onondaga County there are more than 400 plus homeless people consisting of families, children, and lone individuals, spending their nights in homeless shelters. This typical number of 400 does not even include the masses amount of people who refuse to leave their camps outside and go into the shelters. The Housing and Homeless Coalition of Syracuse and Onondaga County wants to reduce these statistical numbers to zero by 2022.

This group has bravely conducted research and months of planning and preparation, in hopes of putting the 10-year plan into motion to end homelessness in the community. However the plan does not just fall on the shoulders of the neighboring community, the plan calls for the creation of more affordable housing and greater alliance among government officials, the private sector and the public on efforts to address the issue.

The 10-year plan is available online in which the coalition launched to shed more light on the issue and serve as a source for information about homelessness in Central New York. The website contains local statistics and other information about homelessness.

Percents of Syracuse citizens in poverty including children, elderly and the unemployed

The coalition knows that this project won’t be easy for Onondaga County and statistics show that numbers of homelessness keeps climbing. The number of homeless families living in emergency shelters increased 260 percent between October 2009 and July 2011.

“It’s good that there is a plan in place because then it’s just an ongoing circle of continuing to support people without any results,” said Patricia Cavada, who works at the Rescue Mission. “Once they come into our facilities though we have very good success rates.”

Homelessness affects a much larger segment of the population than the very common grocery cart pushers and church step sitters on Syracuse street corners. Cavada said that, that’s one of the smallest populations of homeless people that they work with.

Many homeless people are “coach surfing,” which mean that they are staying with relatives or friends until they can “get back on their feet,” according to the plan. More than 1,700 young people in Onondaga County do not have permanent homes.

“A lot of the people that we see are actually kids in high school who are living with friends while trying to finish their education,” Cavada said. “They are just as homeless as someone camping under a bridge at night.”

[gn_pullquote align=”left”]”I will never understand why a man who was so desperate financially would do that. It makes me feel like they are just going to sit back and accept donations for the rest of their lives instead of working for money.” -Kayla Beyer[/gn_pullquote] Camillus resident and SUNY Oswego student Kayla Beyer has changed her views on the homeless in her neighborhood. The same homeless man stood at the corner near her father’s business for a long time, and he felt guilty but he couldn’t afford to hand the man money everyday. Thinking it would be convenient, he offered the man a job sweeping the business a couple times a week. It was close to where he was located and he would be receiving a weekly income. However, the man turned it down.

“I know it is difficult for the homeless to find jobs because they don’t have an address to put on applications. In this circumstance the opportunity was presented and turned down,” Beyer said.

The coalition is made up of representatives of city and county government and many nonprofit human service agencies such as Catholic Charities, the Rescue Mission and Salvation Army. The coalition developed from a committee formed in 1986 by the Syracuse Common Council which encouraged ways to deal with homelessness in the community. A weak economy, job losses and a lack of affordable housing are some of the factors fueling homelessness.

The 10-year plan identified these five strategies to end homelessness: Increase leadership, collaboration and civic engagement related to the homelessness issue among government officials, the private sector and the public. Increase access to stable and affordable housing, including new permanent housing for chronically homeless persons.

Create more jobs for people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Improve health and stability. Integrate primary and behavioral health care services with homeless assistance programs. Transform the homeless services system into a crisis response system that prevents homelessness and rapidly returns people who experience homelessness to stable housing.

The federal government is providing $451,589 to pay for permanent housing for some of the families in the Syracuse area living in shelters, cars, camps etc.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is going to charities such as Catholic Charities and Rescue Mission. These non-profit organizations will use this grant to rent 35 to 40 apartments for homeless individuals and families, and provide

them with support services and healthy living activities. Catholic Charities already rents 110 apartments for about 140 formerly homeless people.

(A look into what living life on the streets of Syracuse is like.)

According to Catholic Charities mission, this agency has been moving homeless people into federally funded permanent housing since 2005.

“Centers in Syracuse are even taking residence from Oswego” Cavada said. Every day we go out and get these people off the streets, few ever say no. So we are starting to see overcrowding in our centers.”

Other agencies in the area like Syracuse Behavioral Healthcare and Central New York Services also provide supportive housing for homeless people. About 370 to 400 people stay each night in area shelters like the Oxford Inn, Dorothy Day House, the Salvation Army and Rescue Mission.

Another Camillus resident and SUNY Oswego student, Trisha Nojaim, says she feels on edge when she sees the homeless in her area. “They usually sit under the bridge near the mall asking for money,” Nojaim said. “I never give them any. I can barely even make eye with them.”

Continue reading to see what troubles Oswego County in facing in the fight to end homelessness.