A summit at the Albany Capital Center Wednesday examined how affordable housing can be used to address homelessness in the Capital Region.
CARES of NY, a nonprofit that supports community solutions to homelessness, organized the meeting. Operating out of Albany for 25 years, the organization provides services for continuums of care in 22 counties in New York. Executive Director Nancy Chiarella says the summit aimed to better educate local landlords, law enforcement, and officials about homelessness.
“Right now the state of New York has an infusion of funding for capital and operations unprecedented. And through CARES' own experience proposing projects in the community it was very apparent that we needed to do a better job of educating New York state on what is the purpose of homeless housing, why it’s a positive for communities – hopefully so they’ll welcome us," Chiarella smiles.
As of June 2018, the Albany City and County Continuum of Care, or CoC, served roughly 5,800 people who were either homeless or at risk of being so. Chiarella says the public perception of homelessness, built on stereotypes of panhandling and erratic behavior, can misinform communities.
“Over 70 percent of folks who are homeless, it is strictly due to income – they don’t have a mental health concern, they don’t have a substance abuse concern. And for those that do, we do have a separate housing program to help," Chiarella explains. "We have people working in our shelters – when we last ran the numbers, there was a large percentage of folks who are working. It is really the lack of affordable housing.”
The summit focused on supportive housing, and the national “housing first” model, which disposes of past sobriety requirements and admits homeless individuals who are struggling with mental health or substance abuse right away. Once housed, they are connected to health services. Speaking with President and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness Nan Roman during a summit panel, Albany police officer Brian Hawley said he was skeptical of the model at first.
"I've seen people who were on the street definitely with their mental illness not being addressed. As soon as they get into some type of supportive housing it gets addressed quickly," Hawley admitted. "There was another individual who he thought he had — you know, thought he was dying of pancreatic cancer, but it just turns out it was a something-simple, medication issue that just needed to be addressed. But when he was out on the street, there was nobody there to follow up with him to make sure he was able to get that care."
The panel also focused on the importance of property management in addressing homelessness. Deborah Pusatere is a landlord who has worked with formerly-homeless tenants and support services on Clinton Avenue in Albany for 22 years. She says fears of increased drug use in a community as a result of affordable housing are the result of surrounding neighbors and absentee landlords.
"A lot of the people that I have taken in, their neighbors — for example, I have three families, four families — the other residents in the building don't know that they're getting help from somebody. They don't know that they're not working. They don't know. And it's not their business," Pusatere says. "All they know is that they're clean, they're respectful, and they're a good neighbor."
CARES’ Chiarella says cuts in federal funding are the biggest threat to affordable housing projects, but misconceptions about the homeless population also make progress difficult.
"So really I think the most imporant thing we can do as providers for affordable housing of the supportive housing nature, is to work very closely with the neighborhoods where we want to build," Chiarella says. "Let them know that we have property management, we have contracts to take care of the exterior of the property, and we have point people if they have any concerns. So I feel that is a challenge — that we need to get out in the community and talk more about the positives."