Press-Republican

April 1, 2013

Helping the homeless for less

By DENISE A. RAYMO
Press-Republican

---- — MALONE — Franklin County may spend $9,350 to save $70,000 in temporary-housing costs for the homeless, sex offenders and those whose behavior gets them evicted.

The Department of Social Services spent $54,000 on temporary residences and another $42,600 on emergency shelter in 2012 for the homeless and hard-to-place persons in need of a place to stay.

But the temporary staff position used to coordinate services for these people expires in May.

In order to keep that help and at the same time prepare for the state’s eventual takeover of certain Medicaid cases, Social Services Commissioner Lesley Lyon is shuffling workers to save as many jobs and services as she can.

A resolution on the proposed job changes will be considered at the next meeting of the County Legislature, set for Thursday.

BACKLOG OF CASES

Lyon estimates three or four positions will be lost as the volume of social-welfare caseloads goes down starting this fall, when the state begins taking over between 40 and 60 percent of the county’s Social Services case files.

Shifting workers now will counter any anticipated staff losses and catch the department up with a backlog of applications for public assistance and food stamps that are now taking as long as 45 days to process instead of 30, she said.

At one point, the wait time climbed to between 60 and 80 days because of the number of people seeking help from Social Services.

Jannelle Reome, director of financial assistance for Social Services, said an average of 33 homeless people a month seek help.

The proposed staff changes include retaining the community-service aide who assists the homeless and hard-to-place to find housing.

The process includes working with the person’s family members and friends to take them in and arranging for a hotel for a few nights until placements can be worked out.

BURNED BRIDGES

Lyon said the county lost use of 100 rooms when the Hotel Flanagan and Nikki’s Place in Malone were closed, but it continues to work with Barnabas House homeless shelter, local motels and hotels and other housing avenues.  

She said if the temporary job is abolished as planned in May and no staffing changes are made to extend it, “we have no one to help the homeless people.”

Much of the salary and benefits is reimbursed by the state, leaving about $9,350 for the county to pay — which could save the county about $70,000 a year in motel-housing costs.

Lyon said the state policy on homelessness is vague on how much help must be given to struggling people, but she strives to help everyone.

“We work very hard not to overspend on the homeless,” she said. “A lot of people have burned their bridges and got evicted. Many are mentally ill and don’t know what they’re doing.

“We don’t ignore them, but there is flexibility on how far we can go,” the commissioner said.   

Email Denise A. Raymo:draymo@pressreapublican.com