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EDITORIAL: Supervisors must take lead


IT’S THE CLASSIC CASE of Be Careful What You Wish For. The City of Hudson fought a long, ultimately successful struggle to thwart the county’s misguided plan to move the Department of Social Services (DSS) out of the city. Now city residents have to face the reality of what the victory means.
The majority of people who need the DSS live in Hudson. No wonder. The 2010 Census shows that 22% of city residents live at or below the poverty line, more than double the poverty rate for the county as a whole. Speculating why only helps if it leads to meaningful improvements in the lives of people hardest hit by poverty, especially those who have nowhere to live. So start with the need for housing–temporary quarters for those who suddenly find themselves homeless and permanent homes for people who are  ready to move ahead on their own if only they can get a break.
Columbia County Habitat for Humanity has made remarkable progress on that “get-a-break” part of the puzzle, building or restoring houses around the city, putting properties back on the tax rolls and helping revitalize neighborhoods. There are also projects like Crosswinds workforce housing that fill the gaps that other low-cost rental properties can’t meet.
But housing homeless people is another matter. We who have houses want to know why these folks don’t. Maybe there’s something wrong with them. That attitude ignores research that shows the vast majority of homeless people end up that way because they can’t afford the housing that’s available, but emotion not facts are at work here.
We don’t have shelters. This county’s response to mandated emergency housing is to park homeless people in motels. We’re not talking about many people, at least the way it’s officially measured. Claverack Supervisor Robin Andrews says the current headcount of homeless single males is fewer than 30. The total number of people, including families, roughly doubles that number.
It doesn’t cost much to put one person in an inexpensive motel for a short stay, but when you multiply the number times 60 and you add on transportation costs, the burden on taxpayers rises into the hundreds of thousands dollars annually. Where should these people stay if we decide not to put them in motels? The DSS, the agency charged with addressing their immediate needs, remains in Hudson. So that’s where the housing should be too.
The Galvan Initiatives Foundation, the non-profit organization run by T. Eric Galloway, which pops up just about everywhere in Hudson that real estate and public policy intersect, has proposed rehabbing one of its many buildings–this one’s on State Street–as a shelter for homeless single men. The county Board of Supervisors has to approve any homeless shelter paid for with county funds, and the city expects to have its say too. The project has “controversy” written all over it.
A shelter for homeless is a tough sell in any neighborhood. But it has to happen, if not at the Galvan building then somewhere close by. Taxpayers can’t afford endless motel bills, and a shelter offers the prospect of helping these people get services they need to put their lives back together and earn enough to pay the rent.
As Ms. Andrews explained it this week, Galvan wants assurances that the county will support a homeless shelter at the State Street building. It would be ridiculous for the foundation to forge ahead with its efforts to obtain permits from the city if the county Board of Supervisors can turn its back on the concept later on.
But no one wants to go first on this project. While Galvan looks for guarantees, while the county wants wiggle room; the city, meanwhile, undoubtedly wants a major voice in how this unfolds. And city residents deserve the opportunity to voice their concerns in ways that can affect the outcome.
If the past is any guide, this project could drag on for years as more of our money that could be devoted to reducing homelessness and its causes is squandered instead on motels. Many players here are vying for control, but only the county has the authority and the responsibility for moving this process ahead. The leaders of the Board of Supervisors should clearly state the steps required, set the deadlines and assure an open process that includes the public, all with the goal of creating safe, humane temporary housing for people who have nowhere else to turn.

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