Homeless advocates consider seasonal effect
Amy M. D’Amico, Guest Essayist
This week, there were over 70 people staying at Sanctuary Village, the temporary winter quarters for many homeless people in the Rochester area. On Tuesday, there were none. The building on Canal Street was never meant to be a permanent fix, but it was better than tents outdoors during a very cold and long winter here in Rochester.
From the time that it opened in January, social workers from many area shelters, volunteers, and outreach staff from Monroe County showed up at Sanctuary Village to offer more sustainable solutions for the folks staying there. For months, they have offered beds at shelters with water, heat, food, case management intended to ready guests for permanent housing, and guidelines intended to keep guests safe. They continue to make offers of assistance.
Homelessness is not a simple issue to solve. As easily as one might say, “homelessness is about lack of homes,” one could say:
•Homelessness is a lack of bonds.
•Homelessness is a lack of community.
•Homelessness is a health-care issue.
•Homelessness is about the gaps in care for persons who are disabled, for those with addiction and mental illness, for single heads of households with children, for transitioning age youth, for veterans, for survivors of domestic abuse and survivors of trauma, and for those re-entering society from correctional facilities.
•And always, homelessness is an issue inexorably linked to poverty.
In January, the Rochester/Monroe County Homeless Continuum of Care conducted a snapshot count and survey of homeless persons in Monroe County for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD asked us to report only about what it considers “Category I” homeless, those staying in emergency, transitional, or safe haven shelters, and those staying in places not meant for human habitation. HUD did not ask us to count those who were “doubled up” with relatives that night, or “couch surfing” or staying in unsafe situations.
On that day, we counted 762 sheltered and unsheltered people. Many of those counted were in emergency shelters (499) or transitional shelters (215). Thirteen were in Safe Haven shelters. Thirty-five were unsheltered. Of those 35, about 20 were staying at Sanctuary Village. In 2014, the number of unsheltered homeless was 41. So, yes, we report that our unsheltered number is down. We are grateful we have moved the needle. But we understand, too, that our work is far from done.
This summer the Rochester/Monroe County Homeless Continuum of Care plans a second count and survey of persons who are homeless. We want to understand better how seasonal changes affect the count and how shelters and service providers can be more responsive to this population, not only during the worst of winter, but every day and regardless of the weather.
Amy M. D’Amico is coordinator of Rochester/Monroe County Homeless Continuum of Care.
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