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Jefferson County’s homelessness committee announces recommendations for local solutions

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Jefferson County’s Homeless Project Steering Committee has made its final recommendations on how to address homelessness and housing insecurity.

In a wide-ranging presentation on Wednesday at the Children’s Home of Jefferson County’s State Street campus, some of the key members of the committee announced the product of over a year’s worth of research, brainstorming, outreach and meetings.

Recommendations include steps that have already been taken, such as establishing a warming center like the Salvation Army’s and a single-resident occupancy program like Transitional Living Service’s Pine Street facility.

Others, like a community of small single-person rooms, made of portable units assembled as a “pallet community,” or a rapidly-deployable emergency shelter to house 50 people in an emergency, have yet to be developed.

The scope of the issue is broad: Theresa M. Gaffney, Jefferson County’s Department of Social Services Commissioner, reported that DSS interacted with 499 people in need of housing assistance in 2022, compared to 244 in 2018, before the COVID-19 pandemic. Trends since the pre-pandemic era have made housing even more scarce, locally and nationally. According to data collected by the housing committee’s data subcommittee, in early 2020 the Watertown zip code had the second-highest number of owner-vacated properties in the nation, meaning the city saw a huge wave of property vacancies that have since been filled or abandoned. At the same time, rent prices in the region dropped steeply, before more than doubling through the end of 2020 and into 2021.

Rents have increased significantly while wages have not increased as fast, especially since 2020, and occupancy of officially-recognized ‘affordable housing’ in Jefferson County hovers around 98%, leaving very few affordable units available. For renters in Jefferson County as of 2018, nearly half were paying more than 30% of their annual income for rent, while nearly 20% of homeowners were paying more than 30% of their income on housing costs like mortgage payments and property taxes.

As they have regularly explained for months, the committee has visualized the path to housing stability as a ladder, with emergency shelter like the warming center as the first rung and long-term, permanent housing at the top. The rungs in-between are different for each person, with some relying only on services to improve their economic situation, and others needing help with physical or mental health challenges.

On Wednesday, the committee’s members said they were proud to see that progress has been made since the crisis level of homelessness seen in 2021, but more needs to be done to address the key underlying issues, to help those still in need and ensure a crisis never again occurs.

“Ultimately, this steering committee that has been in place for the past few months is going to be passing the baton,” said Jefferson County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann, III, a member of the committee. “As we’re talking about problem solving, we’re going to give serious recommendations for the next generation engaged in this position.”

Many of the more than 60 people in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting will be the “next generation” of people dedicated to working on the issue of homelessness in Jefferson County; all four Watertown city councilmembers and the city manager; a handful of Jefferson County legislators; a representative of Assemblyman Scott A. Gray’s office and a litany of staff and executives from local nonprofit and public benefit agencies.

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Open house for Pine Street homeless center to be held Thursday

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WATERTOWN — With temperatures plummeting on recent nights, homeless men will soon have a temporary housing facility to stay in on Pine Street so they can get out of the cold.

Transitional Living of Northern New York is putting the final touches on the facility in the former Angel’s Inn at 518 Pine St. before it opens.

Neighbors, local officials and the homeless will gather this afternoon to take a tour of the new facility. The open house will be held from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Transitional Living has not picked out a specific date for the facility’s opening yet as it continues to fill the 7-person staff.

The facility will not be a homeless shelter but a temporary home for up to 18 houseless men.

On Wednesday, all the rooms have been outfitted with furniture, except the kitchen which is waiting for Transitional Living to work out the purchasing of a dining room for the facility’s kitchen.

“The place is ready to go,” Transitional Living Services Executive Director Maureen P. Cean said.

The former adult home was completely renovated. During a tour on Wednesday, the smell of the painted walls filled the new single-room occupancy facility. Only men, predominately the homeless population, will be able to stay there, but Transitional Living will look at the issue in the future of women staying there, too, Ms. Cean said.

Security cameras will keep an eye on the residents in case of any issues that might arise, she said. The facility will be staffed 24 hours a day.

Neighbors were up in arms about the facility opening on Pine Street. A petition to stop circulated. The city could not stop the center because it has correct zoning.

“We didn’t hear a peep after the petition,” Ms. Cean said.

The dorm-style beds were donated by Fort Drum, while a local hotel sent its used furniture to the facility.

The large community room in the former adult home features a leather couch, love seat and comfy chair, a big screen TV, a desk and a small table. Throw rugs will be added to give the place a more homey touch.

Residents will prepare their own food and do their laundry. Transitional Living will provide counseling for drug addiction and mental health issues. Group sessions also will be held for the residents.

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Tiny Home Village for Salt Lake City‘s Homeless Gets Green Light for 430 Units

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Taking the lead to fight the homelessness epidemic in America, the Salt Lake City council has moved forward with a plan to lease 8 acres of city land to build a village of tiny homes.

Described as “recovery housing,” the 430 units would provide an additional transition between total homelessness and total stability.

The plan was introduced in April of 2021, and has taken awhile to gain traction. On Tuesday, the city council listened to concerns from the community about the use of city resources.

Costing $13.8 million, the village was dreamt up by The Other Side Academy, which provides training and teaches pro-social, vocational, and life skills, allowing attendees to emerge with a healthy life on “the other side” of criminal detention, substance abuse, or homelessness.

But all are looking to change the direction of their lives.

The SLC council voted unanimously, 7-0, in favor of the project, which is envisioned to be funded largely by contributions and donations rather than public money.

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