Homelessness takes a lot of forms. Here in the North Country, we don’t tend to see a lot of the kind of homelessness that’s associated with big urban centers — people living in the street, out of shopping carts, what used to be called “bag ladies.” We see (or don’t see, really) people living in too-close quarters with family members, being shunted from place to place, or living in overcrowded or substandard housing.
In Glens Falls, the problem has apparently become much more visible in recent years; an article in today’s Glens Falls Post-Star says that after years of non-interest in constructing a permanent homeless shelter in the city, the city is showing a willingness to at least address the problem temporarily.
Here’s what’s been happening: Glens Falls has long had a homeless problem, says Lynn Ackershoek, director of Warren-Hamilton Counties Community Action. People come to the area looking for work (particularly in the summer), find none, and find themselves living outdoors. “With the economy,” she says, “it has become more visible…And it’s not just during the winter. During the summers, we used to have tent cities. We actually stocked tents here at one point.”
People are able to live outside in the summer, but in the winter things get desperate. In the past, city organizations that serve the homeless didn’t have a lot of luck getting local officials or community members to recognize the need — or at least being willing to deal with it. That changed this year, apparently, and when the Open Door soup kitchen announced it would open a shelter on nights the temperature dropped to 10 or below (or a foot or more of snow was forecast), it got the support it needed. The shelter has been averaging about seven people a night, and will be open until at least Jan. 30.
Representatives from the city’s various agencies serving the homeless have been meeting weekly to talk about the problem and work on finding solutions; but meanwhile, support from the city for a permanent shelter isn’t guaranteed: Hollie Rapp, Director of Assistance Programs for the Washington County Department of Social Services, says although the need is there, she’s not sure the public is aware of it: “I do not think people in the community really have any idea about the problem,” Rapp told the paper. “The public does not understand there is a homeless problem in this area.” And many don’t want a shelter near their homes.
There’s much more detail on what’s a really interesting story about how cities begin tackling their social problems, in the article. Local social service agencies will be counting the city’s homeless this week; the results will be available in a few weeks. Last year’s results show 15 people unsheltered in Warren and Washington counties, and 55 people in emergency housing.