Cold weather, homeless a precarious mix
Problem not just relegated to urban areas
With the onset of cold weather, many think of spending time with family, enjoying warm food in their warm homes.
For social service providers and local correctional facilities, however, the season bringsimportant issues into play.
At the Oneida County Correctional Facility, it’s not uncommon to see an influx in homeless individuals with petty crime convictions. These individuals look to find a place to stay for the winter, as a few months in jail sometimes can be attainable.
However, once the inmate is released from jail, they often still have no place to go.
For some, help is available.
Gregory Pflieger, the jail captain, said there was one individual in the jail this year that reported being homeless. When that person left jail, arrangements were made for him to go to the Rescue Mission in Utica.
They were able to offer assistance because the individual’s situation had been made apparent to jail officials, Pfliger said. Tracking inmate populations that are homeless on the outside can be tricky as not everyone admits to being homeless.
“When they are booked in, some people tell us the last address they lived, so we put that in the system,” he said.
“Traditionally they have called us,” said Rescue Mission Director of operations Ernie Talerico, of the agency’s partnership with the jail and aiding indigent former inmates.
“Once they come into our shelter, we assess their needs. We give them a hand-up to help them get to the next step,” Talerico said. “The message is (that) we’re here to help.”
“We get a lot of referrals all over the county,” Talerico said, speaking to homeless situations in general, not just former inmates.
But homeless issues aren’t just for heavily populated areas. Rural settings, such as Herkimer and Madison counties, see their share as well.
Talerico said that rural homeless issues are even more of a challenge. In Herkimer and Madison counties, there are no homeless shelters in the winter, and there aren’t even any warming centers for individuals.
In an effort to learn more about the issue, Colgate University students recently probed the problem.
University seniors Faith McDonald, Naomi Philhower and Emmy Watkins, studied the supportive housing issue in Madison County as part of Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Andrew Pattison’s class. The team identified a core group of 108 individuals who are considered chronically homeless, a university spokesman said.
The students presented the findings to the Madison County Board of Supervisors.
“We hope that this report may prove a valuable resource for Madison County as a tailored analysis of supportive housing in peer counties as well as a detailed guide for moving forward,” reads the report summary.
Last year, a county official asked Pattison’s class to look at sustainable and affordable housing policy in a county without a homeless shelter, but the students determined that a needs assessment needed to be done first, Pattison said. This year’s students continued with the policy analysis.
“Our final recommendations for Madison County involved the creation of a mixed-unit supportive housing complex. This would contain emergency housing (for a few weeks), temporary housing (for one to two years) and permanent housing units. These housing units would be connected to supportive services within the community,” Philhower, who majors in political science and minors in environmental studies, wrote in an email. Contact reporter Jolene Cleaver at 315-792-4956 or follow her on Twitter (@OD_Cleaver).