Un-Pleasant Night Inn: West Carthage officials unhappy with emergency housing situation at local hotel | Jefferson County

WEST CARTHAGE – Local officials say they are tired of having to respond to repeated emergency calls at the Pleasant Night Inn, calls they blame on people who have been placed there by the Jefferson County Department of Social Services.

During a meeting of the West Carthage Board of Trustees on November 8, David Postese, the officer in charge of the village police department, said much of the small police force’s time is being exhausted by calls to the inn, which recently contracted with the Jefferson County DSS to provide emergency housing for the displaced.

According to Mr. Pustizzi’s findings, village police officers, sheriffs, and state soldiers responded to the reports at the 30 N. Broad St. 14 times in 2020. So far that number has risen to 108 in 2021, with 83 calls this year occurring since DSS clients moved in. Village officials said they strongly believe the increase in emergency calls is a direct result of the new residents.

“It’s not just about the number of calls, it’s more about the root of the problem and the lack of planning to tackle the problem,” Mayor Scott M. Bertow said.

In addition to the increase in police calls, there were more fire calls to the hotel.

“Residents recently added pulling fire alarms, which now puts volunteer firefighters in a dangerous and unnecessary situation,” Mr. Porto said. “One ‘fire alarm’ call at 1:30 a.m. involved our chief getting into a fight between two men and a girl with levers. This is not a situation where we need to appoint any first responder, especially volunteer firefighters.”

During a village council meeting in November, trustees agreed to move forward with a local ordinance to hold business owners liable if unwarranted calls to the fire service were made.

The mayor said he was aware that the Watertown community had seen similar situations arise in the city’s local hotels, but said the problem only came to West Carthage when the county moved a large number of people in emergency housing to the village.

“This problem is completely new to our community, because instead of being proactive, the county just picked up the problem and moved it to another area,” he said. “This is the easiest and most convenient way.”

DSS County Commissioner Teresa W. Gaffney said she would not discuss the number of clients using the West Carthage Hotel, nor the amount of reimbursement offered to hotel owners. Citing confidentiality restrictions, she said the county contracts with a number of area hotels to accommodate people in need of lodging and that there are state and federal programs under the DSS wing, so the full amount of payment for lodging is not made by local taxpayers.

Scott A. said: Gray, chair of the Jefferson County House of Legislators, said the underlying issue is not a new problem for any community in the county, and the current rise in emergency housing in West Carthage is the result of housing losses in Watertown.

For the emergency housing program, DSS officials request room quotes from local hotels and select the least expensive rooms. There is no formal contract, no open rooms for emergency housing – people are sorted to the nearest and cheapest open room hotel that has agreed to work with the program.

The Rainbow Motel and Relax Inn Motel, two Watertown-area businesses that had received many DSS clients, closed recently. The Rainbow Motel burned to the ground in 2020, and the Relax Inn Motel closed its doors in August.

In addition, the Watertown apartment complex at 661 Factory St. Its doors suddenly opened in early August. This building offered long-term housing for people who had nowhere else to turn, and its closure has driven many people who do not have housing security into homelessness.

Mr. Gray said the closure of the three buildings had led to an increased reliance on other hotels and motels in the area.

“We’re getting out of the county now; we’ve got some people staying in Gouverneur,” he said Monday. “We’ve got to put people wherever we can find the space.”

Local legislator John D. Beck, the Republican hero, and chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, is familiar with and sympathetic to the situation in western Carthage. He said the county is looking at long-term solutions to fix the underlying problems that lead to the county’s homelessness problem.

“There is a lack of mental health resources and places for people to go,” Mr. Beck said.

Timothy J. said: Rutten, director of the county’s Department of Community Services, said Monday that he and a team of local leaders from district nonprofits and other agencies are working to develop a solution to local homelessness.

Mr. Ruetten, who is responsible for county mental health care, has been named the de facto person coordinating the county community’s response to homelessness after the closure of 661 Factory St. As a result, approximately 40 residents took to the streets. Camped outside the closed apartment building in August, their camp became an improvised shelter for the homeless, bringing in people from across the county.

This situation, he said, exposes the need for a thoughtful and comprehensive solution to housing insecurity in Jefferson County that addresses the many reasons people may find themselves without places to live.

“People were housed in 661 until midnight that evening and suddenly they were homeless,” he said. “This is not really a homeless situation, this is an emergency shelter problem.”

Mr. Rutten and other community leaders gathered at Jefferson Arch/St. Lawrence in late October to examine the short and long-term scopes of homelessness and housing insecurity in the area.

Forum participants seem to agree that the county needs a short-term solution to the current levels of housing insecurity and homelessness, and a long-term solution to help prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place.

Mr. Rutten said a small group of local leaders were meeting again on Tuesday to form a committee and working groups to develop ideas further. He said local leaders want to take deliberate steps before committing to any projects or programmes, to ensure that they actually resolve the issues at hand.

He said that traditional homeless shelters, such as those in New York City or other urban areas, tend to have more negative impacts than expected, and without support, people who use such shelters often find it difficult to improve their situation.

He said there are a few potential programs to consider that would better suit the county’s needs, although details were not available yet. One of these programs will be the arrangement of one room.

“One-room occupancy programs might work for a community like ours,” he said. “There are programs, one of which is run by a local provider, that provide a safe and healthy living environment while also helping the person to continue participating in the services needed to help them.”

Ultimately, Mr. Rutten said, officials are dedicated to solving local homelessness and housing insecurity, but they need to spend their time doing it right.

“I would really like to solve this,” he said. “But there are a lot of moving parts, a lot of players and it’s important that we move at a measured pace.”

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