Oswego program helps homeless, faces budget cuts

With record whiteout snowfalls and harsh, hot summers, being homeless in Oswego is no walk in the park. Add to that, the fact that programs designed to assist the homeless in Oswego County are facing budget cuts.

Since October 2009, Oswego County Opportunities, Inc., which services such as Head Start and Meals on Wheels, has administered its Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing [HPRR] service, a program designed to provide financial assistance to individuals and families facing homelessness.

But funding for HPRP has received substantial cuts this year – limiting the amount of people who can be served and the services that can be provided.

“We still have some funding for homeless adults, but we provide more case management for stable housing,” said Kristin LaBarge, planning coordinator at OCO. “We can’t give out as much money as we could have before.” OCO has requested about $400,000 to continue to provide financial assistance and case management to people in the most critical conditions.

The HPRP was funded by a $1.9 million federal stimulus grant provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, LaBarge said. The fund, which was intended to last for 22 months, served over 600 households, she said.

Eric Bresee, director of crisis and development at OCO, said that the funds were used to provide people with utility assistance (such as heat and electricity), security deposits, and any payments made to maintain and obtain homes.

OCO is hoping to expand their resources by winning more grants. “Hopefully we can get services in place before the severe weather starts to hit,” Eric Bresee said.

Oswego County has an 11 percent unemployment rate, one of the highest in New York. People who requested assistance at OCO were both unemployed and underemployed, meaning they make significantly less than what they have earned before.

The County of Oswego Advocates Challenging Homelessness [COACH] also combats homelessness in the county. COACH conducts a Point in Time Survey each year to obtain information about levels of homelessness for the county.

In 2011, the survey revealed that of the 200 people who participated, 22 percent were living with family, friends and relatives with no stable place to stay; 43 percent were without a stable and safe place to live more than four times in the last three years or continuously for a year or more, making them chronically homeless, according to survey results.

There are no homeless shelters in Oswego County, but emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence and state-certified host homes from volunteer families can shelter people between 15 to 21 days.

After that, people will have to look at other resources as agencies such as OCO receive funding cuts. Other sources of assistance for people who are financially struggling, homeless, or at risk for becoming homeless are Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army and the Department of Social Services.

The Catholic Charities of Oswego Food Pantry, a community service organization located in Fulton, provides households with a three-day supply of food.

“The Pantry goal is that no one goes without food,” emergency services assistant Dana Howell said.

A large distribution of food also takes place the second Wednesday of every month in Elks Lodge – which serves between 90 and 120 families each month.

The Catholic Charities also works with a thrift store where people can receive vouchers to shop for warmer clothing. Additionally, they can provide individuals with bus passes and the addresses of homeless shelters in Syracuse.

Some local churches occasionally sponsor meals for the homeless, and an individual may be able to receive further assistance based on their connection to the church.