When I interviewed for my job at North Country Public Radio, I asked the people I was talking to several questions about the North Country. One of these was what poverty looks like here.
Before moving to Canton, I’d always lived in big cities, and it’s easy to see there. The place it’s easiest to see is in the street, in the form of homeless people. For example, according to the organization Coalition for the Homeless, thousands of homeless people sleep on New York City’s streets and public spaces every night (that’s on top of about 51,000 people who spend the night in the city’s shelters.)
In the North Country, that’s not quite how homelessness looks. It’s a mostly-rural area and doesn’t have (many of) the kind of urban centers that would attract homeless people. Not to mention it’s far too cold much of the year to even imagine sleeping outdoors (I’m aware that the reasons are more complicated than this, but my point is there’s just not as much visibility as housing catastrophes play out here, as there would be in an area with greater population density and less harsh weather.)
So when things get so tough for people here that they don’t have a stable home, what does that look like? Well, I was told, it looks like sub-par housing, overcrowding, instability, and a whole mess of problems that come from that. And the more urban areas of our region do of course have some of what are traditionally called “homeless” people — i.e., people sleeping in the street.
Those problems are what a $900,000 federal grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is intended to address. The Watertown Daily Times reports that the grant, made to the Continua of Care housing coalitions in Franklin, Essex, Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis Counties, will “support emergency, transitional and permanent supportive housing for the homeless and homelessness prevention efforts for those at-risk of becoming homeless.” The money will go largely to Jefferson County’s Department of Social Services (DSS). They’ll get $784,795.
One thing that’s interesting in this article is the clear importance of case management for social service providers. Case managers work with clients to find housing, finding a job, and generally are in their corner when that’s needed. It also seems to be something of a key to keeping life somewhat “normal” when your housing situation is precarious but not necessarily dire to the point of staying in a shelter. Jefferson County DSS Commissioner Laura Cerow told the paper that when people don’t have a permanent home, they’re not as likely to make medical appointments or “perform other personal necessities.”
Jefferson County DSS will also work closely on managing the cases of people with disabilities who have housing issues, because this is an especially vulnerable population, and on getting homeless people with mental illnesses into transitional housing (and there’s some more detail in the article about how the grant will work.)
Some of the HUD grant will also go toward something called a “Homeless Management Information System Database”, which aids in keeping records of homeless people for local agencies.