The Huffington Post | By Robbie Couch
Joseph’s House News Archive
Arresting repeat offenders will not combat ongoing homelessness in Troy.
Troy Record, 09/04/14
“Each year, Out of Reach demonstrates that large numbers of low income renters cannot afford the cost of living in the cities and towns where they work. This edition underscores the challenges facing the lowest income renters: increasing rents, stagnating wages, and a shortage of affordable housing. The urgent solution to these issues is clear: expanding the supply of affordable housing units, dedicated to the lowest income renters.”
Mike McMahon – The Record
Kevin O’Connor, Executive Director of Joseph’s House speaks before the start of the Winter Walk for the Homeless through downtown Troy that traces the footsteps of the homeless., December 7, 2013.
By Andrew Beam, Troy/The Record
POSTED: 12/08/13, 12:41 AM EST |
TROY >> Joseph’s House 31st Winter Walk for the Homeless held more significance than ever as federal funding cuts to social services could impact some of the agency’s program in the coming year.
Executive Director Kevin O’Connor spoke on Saturday of the difficulties the agency may face in 2013 as the cuts brought on by this year’s budget sequestration could affect programs like legal aid for the economically depressed and transitional housing. Still, he was all smiles as he prepared to meet the supporting community in the winter walk
O’Connor said the cuts amount to $135,000 in lost funding for the agency, which would go toward helping people from being evicted from their homes, tenant disputes, entitlement benefits. It also will effect transitional housing, which helps families without a home find permanent housing.
“We can’t accommodate them all,” O’Connor said, adding they have put some up in hotels and motels. “We have staff visiting them.”
He also said the city will see a 24 percent cut in emergency solution grants, which will have an impact on the agency’s emergency shelters.
O’Connor sees the government trending towards trying to get families into permanent housing, something he said he commends but said it seems to be skipping a step,
“It’s premature,” O’Connor said. “What they are proposing is not enough for those in need.”
Matt Vertefeuille, an outreach specialist with Joseph’s House, said it could cut off some sustainability for their clients as the cuts to programs such as legal aid were meant to make it easier to get access to social security.
“It definitely increases the burden,” Vertefeuille said. “It puts more stress on the shelter and more weight on the shelter system as a whole.”
With the colder weather and some winter precipitation on Friday evening, Vertefeuille said the walk is a good way to raise awareness for people and give them a small taste of what it’s like to live outdoors.
“I think the walk is a good reminder,” he said. “It’s a way to get people to think what it’s like being outside.”
Joseph’s House employees weren’t the only ones upset over the cuts in funding. U.S. Congressman Paul Tonko, who participated in the walk on Saturday, called the sequestration “un-American” as he said it could serve a severe blow to communities in need.
“It should be a thoughtful and compassionate approach,” Tonko said, as he took aim at Republicans in congress. “What we need is a bold and balanced plan. We need to look at revenues and we need to close loopholes so we can cut where we can and invest where we need to.”
O’Connor also said he was hopeful to become involved in the city’s comprehensive plan process as he mentioned the emphasis the city put on community involvement in the creation of the plan.
“We are advocating for the community to make sure the needs of the poor and the working poor are included in the comprehensive plan,” O’Connor said.
He also mentioned while there may be a promising future for the city’s economy, he hopes the need for affordable housing doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.
Mayor Lou Rosamilia, who said the city has completed reviewing the requests for proposals submitted by various organizations to help the city build its plan, said the community’s voice “is critical.”
Rosamilia even said the city has been working with the Troy Housing Authority to see if they can take vacant buildings and turn them into affordable housing and even looking at facilities such as the Taylor Apartment buildings 1 and 2 for options.
“We want to redevelop the neighborhoods that have been neglected,” Rosamilia said. “Downtown is only one piece of the city.”
10/1/13 We are proud to announce that Joseph’s House & Shelter has won the Supportive Housing Network of New York’s Annual Award for outstanding housing.
We are very pleased to recognize this year’s Residences of the Year!
True Colors Residence of West End Residences and Hill House Inn of Joseph’s House & Shelter were chosen by a panel of judges to receive the Network’s 2013 Residence of the Year Award. Based upon remarkable innovations in program services, a community of residents who work together, productive connections with the surrounding neighborhood and the high quality of the physical environment, please join us in applauding this year’s winners on October 16 at Capitale, 130 Bowery in New York City. Visit the Supportive Housing Network of NY website to learn more about the Gala and the honorees, or use the attached form to RSVP or Sponsor the gala.
Q: What is Joseph’s House Proposing?
A: We are proposing to build permanent supportive housing on a parcel of land where the former Bizzarro Funeral Home was located; 16 studio apartments for persons experiencing prolonged homelessness with chronic or late-stage alcohol addiction. Residents will sign annual tenant agreements. These studio apartments will be subsidized; tenants will pay roughly 30% of their income for rent. Tenants will only be allowed to drink alcohol and legal beverages in their own apartments. This project will utilize the proven Housing First model where significant personal changes occur – not because of imposed rules, but by tenant self-direction.
Q: Isn’t this project just encouraging and enabling people to drink themselves to death?
A: No. Studies have confirmed this type of permanent supportive housing (sometimes referred to in the media as a ‘wet house’) results in an average reduction in the amount of alcohol people drink. The research suggests tenants will reduce the number of drinks they have on a daily basis by up to 40% over the course of two years. Additionally, for every three months of residency, tenants have been shown to reduce their consumption of alcohol on their heaviest drinking days by 8%.
Each tenant will be assigned a housing advocate working to encourage tenants to make healthy choices. Housing advocates will be supervised by staff with credentialed substance abuse counseling and will be trained to help tenants reduce harmful behaviors related to their alcohol use. Housing advocates and on-site 24-hour staff will access emergency services should any medical emergency occur.
Q: How safe will our tenants be? How safe will neighbors and families be?
A: The safety of tenants, staff, neighbors and visitors is a top priority for Joseph’s House. All of our rules are safety based. The building will be staffed 24-hours by agency personnel trained to maintain a safe environment. For more than 18 years we’ve operated similar types of supported permanent housing programs, and we have experienced less than a handful of incidents of tenants creating a disturbance in the neighborhood.
This proposal comes from identified need. Many potential tenants have long histories of successful stays in our homeless shelter in downtown Troy. More than half of those currently identified as eligible for this program have stayed in our shelter an average of 205 days during in the past three years; living in our shelter without significant incidents in the community or in our program. The shelter utilizes a harm reduction approach similar to what we envision for Ida Street. For many of our tenants, this will be the first time in years they have had a secure home to call their own and they value that immensely. Joseph’s House does not anticipate our tenants creating disturbances within the neighborhood – but if issues arise, we will work to address them immediately and rectify the situation as quickly as possible. Joseph’s House does have a procedure for evicting unsafe tenants.
Q: Will Joseph’s House buy alcohol for tenants?
A: No, Joseph’s House will not buy alcohol for tenants. If they choose to drink, tenants will purchase their own alcohol. The impact this project will have on our community is that instead of drinking in the parks, on the streets and in the alleys, our prospective tenants will be able to drink in the privacy of their own apartments, in a safe environment.
Q: Shouldn’t these chronic and late stage alcoholics be in treatment, not housing?
A: These prospective tenants have been in countless abstinence-based programs without success. Over many years they have lost everything; families, employment & income, and housing. Several have been on the streets for years. Housing First is not only a humane and cost-effective response to an apparently intransigent social problem – it also promotes significant change. A 2012 study of a similar but larger-scaled supportive housing program which allowed on-site drinking showed that residents drank less because housing provided a motivation for change. Those who reported they were motivated by housing permanency to alter their drinking patterns drank LESS than those who attended treatment programs.
Additionally, extensive studies have showed that up to 83% of Housing First tenants remained in housing and avoided return to homelessness five years after moving into housing; a figure nearly twice that of treatment-based housing programs; while no significant group differences were revealed in alcohol or drug use between these two different models (2000) (2006).
Q: Can the tenants come and go as they please?
A: Yes, in the same way you are able to come and go as you please in your home. This is a permanent housing apartment building for chronically homeless men and women suffering from a terrible disease, not a treatment facility or jail.
Q: The people you propose to house want to be in downtown. Why do you want them to walk so far from where they want to be?
A: It is a misconception that the proposed tenants want to be in downtown. Downtown just provides a convenient place to hang out and drink. Having a home reduces the need or desire to hang out on the streets.
Generally, we do not propose more than one program for the same neighborhood. Despite this location and the Hill Street Inn both being in Little Italy, we felt that this project was far enough away from the Hill Street Inn that any perceived “campusing” would be minimized.
Q: Won’t this project result in a bunch of drunk people walking around our neighborhood?
A: The purpose of this project is to get prospective tenants off the streets and out of homelessness. Our tenants will have their own apartments, and community areas such as a common living room and an enclosed courtyard will be available for tenants. Our prospective tenants don’t prefer to roam the neighborhood intoxicated. They are tired of life on the streets, and are very aware of how they are viewed in the community. Our experience in working with chronically homeless individuals has been that once they have housing, they often choose to stay home where they feel safe and valued. If you do see any of our tenants walking around the streets, chances are high that they will be walking to or from a store nearby.
Q: Won’t putting a bunch of alcoholics together in one building where they are allowed to consume alcohol just result in “frat house” behavior with parties, drinking and excessive noise disrupting the neighborhood?
A: No. The safety and security of the tenants, staff and neighbors is the number one priority for Joseph’s House. The building will be staffed 24 hours a day. Tenants will not be allowed to drink in any area other than their own apartments. Our agency’s visitor policy limits each tenant to 2 guests at any one time. All visitors to the building will be required to present picture ID and sign in, and we will always know who is in our building. Staff reserves the right to limit the number of times a particular non-resident may enter the building, and reserves the right to bar non-residents from entering the building at all. Residents are responsible for the behavior of their guests, and the agency has an eviction process for tenants not abiding by their tenant agreement.
Q: Will the proximity of this project to my home drive down my property value?
A: Although we can never be a traditional neighbor, Joseph’s House strives to be the very best neighbor we can be at each of the sites we operate. Our architectural plans include a façade that harmonizes well with the other buildings in the area much more than does the existing building. The addition of green space available for public use as well as the gardens will have a positive impact on beautification of the neighborhood.
Research from the Furman Center at New York University suggests that although selling prices of properties close to a supportive housing site may fall slightly (approximately four percent on average) during the development and construction phases of a project, this effect is reversed within a year of the project opening. Properties within 2/10ths of a mile of a new supportive housing project on average show stronger growth in value relative to neighborhood properties further from the project site.
Q: Why should my tax dollars go to toward supportive housing for chronically homeless?
A: The population targeted by this program will be chronically homeless, late-stage and/or chronically alcohol-addicted persons already in our community. These individuals are already high users of public services supported by local taxpayers, such as ambulance and hospital emergency rooms, emergency shelter, city police, county jail and court resources. These services come at a high fee, and local taxpayers are bearing this burden.
By contrast, researchers from the University of Washington conducted a cost savings study on a very similar project in Seattle in 2009. The researchers found that participation in the supportive housing program by its 95 tenants reduced the total cost to the public by more than $4 million per year, and that longer tenancy contributed to increased cost savings. Our own experiences support this data. Prior to placement, our original tenants cost local taxpayers an annual average of $100,000 per year in emergency services. Post housing placement, that figure was reduced more than three quarters.
Q: Is this project going to make our neighborhood feel transient, with tenants coming and going?
A: No. The Ida Street Inn is intended to be a permanent housing program, a residence where tenants will live long-term. Tenants in our existing programs have been with us for an average of four years; thirty percent of tenants have lived in their apartments for five years or longer. In fact this number will only increase as the Hill Street Inn opened just two years ago in 2011. This stability is a testament to the level of services we provide to our tenants and the validity of our Housing First harm-reduction approach to supportive housing.
Q: The local community is working to improve this neighborhood. Why does Joseph’s House want to take a property off the tax rolls?
A: Just because a building is on the tax rolls does not mean it contributes to the improvement of a neighborhood. A neighborhood is improved by people going to work; by people taking an active role in neighborhood activities; by buildings that improve the appearance of the neighborhood and are well maintained. This project does all of that. It replaces a poorly-kept and abandoned building with a beautiful and vibrant new building that matches the neighborhood. It will also add a lit parking lot monitored by cameras and green space/pocket park setting available to our neighbors. Research in NYS has shown that supportive housing actually adds value to surrounding properties. We believe this project will add value to the neighborhood.
Q: Won’t this program attract people from other cities to become homeless in Troy?
A: No. One eligibility condition for the Ida Street Inn will be that prospective tenants demonstrate a long-term history of residency or homelessness in Rensselaer County. In fact the highest percentage of our tenants are Troy natives. For our two housing projects, tenant selection is conducted through an independent review to verify tenant’s residency, need, and capacity (known as the Single Point of Access or S.P.O.A.) We envision that tenant selection for Ida Street will pass through a similar residency and eligibility review.
Q: Troy is not a big city – the population is just about 50,000. Why do we need another supportive housing site?
A: Each of Joseph’s House’s programs has developed out of an identified gap in services available in the community. In fact, Troy has proportionally fewer site-based supportive housing units than similarly-sized municipalities in Upstate New York. Joseph’s House proposal will bring our TOTAL number of site-based supportive housing units in Troy to 62. That’s 1.24 units per thousand residents. Here’s how this figure compares;
|City||Population, 2012||Number of Site-based SH Units||Per 1,000 Residents|
|Poughkeepsie, City and Town of||
Q: Will you house sex offenders?
A: Sex offenders have many restrictions on where they are allowed to live. The Ida Street Inn will not provide any exemptions to those restrictions. If a sex offender can legally live in one of the homes in the neighborhood, then he/she would not be prevented from living in this building. However, we place safety above all else and if a potential tenant was a sex offender and eligible to live at the Ida Street Inn, we would carefully evaluate our ability to house him/her safely and we might impose additional requirements of residency.