Fulton County needs proactive approach

Guest editorial

By GREGORY YOUNG

Last week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced more than $2 billion in funding to combat homelessness across the country, but none of that money will be coming to Fulton County due to local government inaction. A cover story in last Saturday’s Leader-Herald examined the prevalence of homelessness in Fulton County after the Board of Supervisors’ Human Services Committee deferred action on a resolution intended to permit the Department of Social Services to participate in the “Balance of State Continuum of Care,” a federal program to address homelessness. Fifty-seven of New York state’s 62 counties have elected to establish their own Continuum of Care programs and have begun working to address homelessness in their communities. Last fall, New York state formed a “Balance of State” committee to access federal funds for purposes of helping the homeless in the remaining five counties, including Fulton County, which failed to establish programs of their own. Fulton County now has the opportunity to send representatives to participate and make sure the program focuses on our housing needs. Sitting out of these efforts is misguided.

Communities of all sizes face homelessness and ours is no exception. We need to do away with the myth that those in need are not really struggling, brought their misfortune upon themselves, and/or come from somewhere outside the county such that they are not our responsibility. Growing up and until recently I heard similar urban legends about billboards and signs proclaiming our county offers “best in the state” welfare benefits. What a ridiculous claim. The fact of the matter is that these are our poor and while some may choose to live here because of our affordable housing options, others have been here for generations, hold jobs, but continue to struggle to make ends meet, retain optimism and avoid the downward spiral of drug addiction. Three-quarters of homeless households reported their last permanent resident within the county. Most importantly, Social Services is not a zero-sum game against economic development. How can we expect new businesses and residents to relocate to an area that does not address the needs of its most vulnerable residents? Thriving communities help all of their residents meet their basic needs and work to prosper.

Joining this new Continuum of Care will enable agencies in our area to receive hundreds of thousands in federal assistance to prevent homelessness and rapidly rehouse those experiencing homelessness. Arguably, even opponents of this whole process should at least want a seat at the table to offer their concerns. We need to work together with local non-profit agencies and state and federal partners to reduce the scourge of homelessness. All communities have poverty, homelessness, and addiction. Ignoring these problems will not make them go away. By contrast, it is only when we include the most disadvantaged in our community in our plans for economic development that we can truly say we are prepared for the future.

Gregory Young resides in Gloversville

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