Advocates for homeless demand to see Brooks
David Riley and Brian Sharp, Staff writers
Advocates seeking to assist the homeless population recently locked out of the Civic Center Garage protested outside Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks’ office on Friday, claiming they have been shut out by county officials.
Sister Grace Miller from House of Mercy said the county canceled a Sept. 9 meeting on the subject, allegedly claiming it was unnecessary and that there was no plan to reschedule. The sit-down was to involve members of the administration along with representatives of Miller’s facility and St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality. Together, the two organizations have tried to find a property for use as a new shelter with limited restrictions.
On Friday, Miller showed up with about a dozen protesters outside Brooks’ office and said they would refuse to leave until they were able to talk to Brooks and or arrange a new meeting. They delivered a letter explaining their complaints.
In a statement, county officials indicated they would not back a proposal from the groups for a new shelter and that the advocates were directed to other funding sources instead.
“It can’t be overstated that Monroe County already invests nearly $5 million and contracts with 17 shelters for emergency housing each year and will continue to work closely with reputable service providers to fill this important need,” spokesman Justin Feasel said. “However, the county will not use taxpayer dollars to pay for a facility that would encourage active illegal drug and alcohol abuse.”
Miller said a shelter needs health and safety rules, but should help people with drug or alcohol problems, not throw them out.
In any case, she said the county is missing the point. “It’s really their responsibility, not ours, and they are trying to put the responsibility on us,” Miller said. “Why don’t they come up with the building and run it?”
Ryan Acuff, with House of Mercy and Take Back the Land Rochester, said the county’s own reports show it spends a considerably amount to house many homeless people at the substandard Hotel Cadillac on Chestnut Street. He questioned whether that money would be more effectively spent on an additional shelter that offers support services.
A sheriff’s deputy stationed outside Brooks’ office on Friday told protesters that the county executive was not in the building and that they could call to try to schedule a meeting. The group stayed anyway.
David Moore, the county’s public safety director, spoke with Miller and said he would try to find out why the meeting had been canceled and whether another could be scheduled. He left and came back later, saying that Human Service Commissioner Kelly Reed was out sick and that the group might have better luck on Monday.
Moore said the protesters’ actions could escalate the situation, but Miller said it was the county that ratcheted up the tension as the weather grows cold.
While Miller and others were prepared to be arrested, Moore said the protesters could stay while the building was open as long as they did not block the doors or hallway.
Miller said they weren’t going anywhere.
“Every single homeless person is important,” she said.
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