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Troy officials discuss ways to combat homelessness

Members of the Troy City Council listen to speakers during Tuesday's Public Safety Committee meeting
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Image capture by WAMC
Members of the Troy City Council listen to speakers during Tuesday's Public Safety Committee meeting

City officials in Troy held a roundtable discussion this week focused on addressing increased homelessness in the Collar City.

The Troy City Council’s Public Safety Committee gathered on Tuesday to hear from experts on the growing issue of homelessness.

Mayor Patrick Madden, a Democrat, was the first invited guest to speak.

“I hope that this is just the beginning of a productive community dialogue around the issues of poverty, addiction, and mental health and how they manifest themselves throughout the city, and more particularly, in the downtown business district,” said Madden.

Kevin O’Connor, Executive Director of Joseph’s House, a Troy-based organization that provides shelter and support services to those in need, was among invited speakers.

“If you have a perception that homelessness has grown, you’re right about that. Last year, we served 142 people across Rensselaer County. So far this year, from 6 months, we’ve already seen 162 – just half of the year. So the numbers are growing and it’s not just here. We happen to provide street outreach in Albany as well, and that’s really mushroomed there,” said O’Connor.

Experts explained that the population of unhoused residents has grown not just in the downtown but across the city. The disruptions caused by the pandemic are seen as a significant factor in the rise of street homelessness.

District 4 Democratic city councilor Emily Menn, a local landlord, said residents feel unsafe.

“We’re in it every day. And people don’t feel safe walking to their homes because they’re being followed by mentally ill people,” said Menn.

Many of those on the street are suffering from mental health and addiction issues. While city police are receiving training for encounters with emotionally disturbed persons, Police Chief Daniel DeWolf said Troy cannot “arrest its way” out of the problem.

“Everybody is calling for a cop on their corner but it’s difficult to do that when you have all these other issues that are going on that really aren’t something that the police department is prepared and trained to deal with,” said DeWolf. “We don’t have the answers for homelessness. All we do is try our best to get those that are experiencing that the help that they need and many people don’t want the help.”

Rensselaer County Mental Health Commissioner Katherine Coons explained that in most situations, unhoused people can be pointed to services but not forced.

“Everyone has the right to accept or refuse treatment and services. That said, there are times when our social worker does meet with someone, makes recommendations, and the individual refuses the service,” said Coons.

Republican City Council President Carmella Mantello, who also works in the New York State Senate, asked Coons if she was aware of the push in the state legislature to pass Daniel’s Law. Named after Daniel Prude, the Law was introduced by Rochester area lawmakers following Prude’s fatal encounter with police during a mental health crisis in 2020.

The bill would train mental health response units to respond to people in crisis instead of law enforcement.

“There’s a real push to get this passed at the state level. Would that be something…”

“That would be something we would love to have,” said Coons.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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