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While many agencies are working to help men, women and families find emergency shelter in times of need in Chautauqua County, the shortfall may be greater than many realize.
Jeff Rotunda, executive director of UCAN City Mission, said organizations in the region are aware of the problem. However, current efforts may not be enough, especially when it comes to helping women and children.
“There really aren’t any good options here in this area – real emergency shelter or other options,” said Rotonda. “The real urgency… will come through (Chautauqua Opportunities Inc.) and ourselves. These numbers are not taken into account because they cannot be directly reported because they do not come to the county or do not come to these organizations, but they are still there.
“There are a few different dynamics here. With the 2020 numbers, 222 single women were in hotels and motels in 2021 and 108 families were in hotels and motels that the county was able to record. At only half that rate, the program (Chautauqua Opportunities) can’t cover that and we’ll barely meet or finish picking up the rest. It’s the dynamic that we don’t see often enough.
PUBLIC HOUSING AID
Chautauqua Opportunities recently received $2.49 million for 12-unit supportive housing and an 18-bed emergency shelter for homeless women over the age of 18 in Jamestown. Governor Kathy Hochul announced the funding as part of the five-year, $25 billion housing plan.
Rotunda said families and women are staying in hotels and motels in the county because there is no other shelter. These situations are not ideal because there are not as many resources available for those who need them in hotels and motels.
“They are there, and they are protected, but there are no catering services, there is no direct case management or people there for immediate help, hope or the responsibility”, he said. “That’s some of the trends that we unfortunately see with some men who have been referred here, (and they say), ‘Oh, I can’t stay there because they kicked me out.’ But the answer is no, we haven’t chased them away — they’ve never been here, they just want to go to the hotel to go where they can continue to do what keeps them homeless.
New shelters from Chautauqua Opportunities and the UCAN Mission will meet current needs, Rotunda said. However, the emergency shelter issue in Chautauqua County and many other areas is complex and difficult to solve.
“This has been a problem for how many years now?” He asked. “Not just in our county but in many counties as we work with many other homeless shelters across the country. Some are in Canada and there are a few in Barbados through our connection through City Gate. This is a question that is still asked every year, from the government level down to our shelters. There is no real answer or real direction – it’s really how can we help the individual at that point to start making these different choices.
Rotunda said poverty is a big part of the problem. He said it’s a “common connector” for homelessness and many other issues.
“It’s how we address some of the problem of poverty and some of the life choices that people are able to make,” he said. “Not everyone has a good support system. We know that generational poverty is a big part of that. “That’s what I’ve been through – now that some of these services have been used or denied by this system, now I have no other choice because I’ve been sanctioned by ( Department of Social Services) and cannot receive their cash assistance.”
Rotunda said individuals can be turned away or disciplined by social services if they don’t do what they are supposed to do, such as working for employment, housing and other requirements.
Rotunda said UCAN is a member of the Homeless Coalition and has had a discussion with Chautauqua Opportunities regarding these issues.
“They’ve been trying to push this forward for several years now,” he said. “They finally got to that room, and what we’re looking at is some of the overflow because they’re going to have 12 units plus a total of 18 beds…but like I said, that won’t meet (the need). The part that will not be covered are the families – and this is a part where we can intervene and help – as well as the overflow for single women.
ANSWER TO NEED
Rotunda said the Anew Center, YWCA and other organizations in the area are responding to the need for emergency shelter for women with children.
“There is no other option for families or women right now, so now they have to go to Buffalo, or they have to go to Cattaraugus County or out of state,” he said. “We really try to keep them close to their families and their basic systems as best we can without creating too much trauma. It’s very traumatic, being homeless. It’s a piece we don’t often think about either; they just need to find a job or they just need to do this — it’s very traumatic.
Not knowing where to sleep can be overwhelming for some without a support system in place.
“(Those who are homeless) receive some stabilization with some accommodation”, said Rotunda. “It takes a while to get into YWCA or STEL or some of the other supportive housing programs because they have an intake process so they can’t just come in and need a place to stay. We are really looking to fill those gaps.
Despite the difficulties and complexity of the issues, Rotunda said the community has been very supportive of the Jamestown Mission and other agencies tackling the issue. Once the new facility — located at 100-120 N. Main St. in Jamestown — is up and running, he said there will be more opportunities for members of the public to volunteer directly.
“Mentoring is a huge element, especially when it comes to women and families,” he said. “These types of pieces really impact a person becoming self-sufficient, viable, and vital to society.”
Diana Butcher, executive director of the Anew Center, said the center and the Salvation Army itself are aware of the county’s issues with emergency shelter due to the nature of their work. The Anew Center is an emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence, and not all cases are cases of domestic violence.
“Obviously we are short-term,” she says. “Sometimes people go back to their abusers, but more often they want to be alone and trying to find affordable housing is just an ongoing problem. It’s been years and years, and of course COVID hasn’t made things any better. Many of our people are on a limited income and may not have a lot of resources. So it becomes an obstacle.
While the general recommendation is to spend 30-33% on housing, Butcher said that can sometimes add up to more than 50-90% of the income of individuals and families served by the Anew Center.
“That’s our fight and where we are in terms of transitioning people,” she says. “Some people need longer term support and transitional housing… but it’s also very limited. There are people out there who are very capable and can pick up their own apartment, but again you need to be able to afford the apartment, utilities and all your other needs. Our goal is to bring people into an apartment and try to be as self-sufficient as possible, but self-sufficiency can take different forms. It could be the help of TANF. Then you don’t want to put them in a position where three months from now they’re struggling to pay their bills again and keep their heads above water.
Butcher said there are various agencies, housing options and resources available in the county, but there are waiting lists and processes that must be followed. Also, some applicants may not be eligible for the assistance available.
“It just seems like there’s always a challenge to get people into something that’s affordable, that can be affordable in the long run, and that also meets at least basic health and wellness needs” , she says.
Butcher added that other populations are also at risk, such as teenage mothers and the elderly. Some facilities must follow certain regulations that will disqualify teenagers after the birth of their children and may not allow seniors to participate in their program.
“It can be difficult to find affordable, clean, safe housing for anyone, but then you have these other populations, especially when people have limited resources and income,” she says. “If you don’t fit those exact parameters for those particular programs, you have to keep going through all the different programs until you find something that works for you, and then either put yourself on a waitlist or hope that something thing is going to happen. up.”
Although the issue is complex and confusing at times, Butcher said a lot of good work is being done in the community by various organizations.
“There are people who care and work hard and do the best they can,” she says. “I know the collaborations we’ve had over the years, whether it’s with the Resource Center, with Elder Law and Justice, or with the Department of Social Services, we all work well together to try to understand people’s situations. . .”