By Breana Cacciotti
ITHACA – With the below-average temperatures this winter, individuals experiencing homelessness in Ithaca have had to decide where to safely spend each night.
To aid the organizations that provide housing services to the homeless, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently awarded $1.8 billion in grants to Continuum of Care (CoC) programs throughout the United States to further contribute support in the fight to end homelessness.
In Tompkins County, four housing assistance organizations received these grants; the Chartwell House, Lakeview Mental Health Services, the Magnolia House and Tompkins Community Action Supportive Housing. The grants total $236,206 in aid money.
Cost of Homelessness
The “Housing First” model, used by many nonprofit organizations throughout the country, emphasizes the importance of providing the homeless with stable housing before other services such as rehabilitation.
In a May 2014 study released by the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, it was found that each central Florida residents is paying up to $31,065 annually for every chronically homeless individual living on area streets. Many of these costs accumulated are due to the salaries of law enforcement officers needed to arrest and transport homeless individuals, and for the incarceration and medical expenses that the individuals could not afford.
The study found that giving homeless individuals stable housing and supportive services was a far less expensive option. Central Florida residents would have to pay an estimated $10,051 annually to provide these services to homeless individuals, one-third the cost taxpayers currently spend.
Homeless Population Count
At the end of every January, Ithaca’s CoC Committee worked with local agencies and organizations to conduct a survey of Tompkins County’s current homeless population.
According to HUD, the number of Tompkins County total homeless individuals in 2014 was 46. Compared to previous years, this number has decreased. In 2010 the total was 73, and in 2006 there were 106 homeless individuals.
Kathleen Schlather, Tompkins County Continuum of Care Committee director, argues that the number of homeless people in Ithaca is most likely higher than what is found by the annual survey.
“Many people who are homeless are not easy to find, they might live in a car or under a bridge, so not everyone who is homeless is always accounted for,” Schlather said.
Those who are homeless, Schlather said, can find housing by going to local organizations that provide food or clothing to those in need where they can talk to agency service providers in order to find them housing for their specific situation.
HUD found in its June 2010 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress that an estimated 35% of homeless individuals who sought shelter in January suffered from chronic substance abuse issues.
Schlather supports the belief that in order to help those suffering with substance addiction, they must first have stable housing before they can receive the appropriate addiction services.
Jamie Williamson, public information officer for the Ithaca Police Department, said the IPD receives on average one to two calls per day for an incident involving a homeless individual. Many of who have problems with substance abuse or a mental illness, he said.
According to a study done by the Department of Psychiatry at Yale University, among those who were homeless at the time of incarceration, 78% were found to have drug or alcohol dependence.
Williamson believes the procedures that are currently in place for the arrests of homeless individuals are not working. Currently the courts decide whether homeless substance abusers must attend drug or alcohol counseling after an arrest is made, he said.
“Just arresting them and putting them in jail does no good, there needs to be a stronger push for officers to work and talk with the homeless when these situations arise, to find a better resolution,” Williamson said.