By MATT LINDSEY
OGDENSBURG – A housing complex for homeless men unable to live independently because they need psychiatric or rehabilitative support that will be constructed in Ogdensburg will increase the overall number of beds for homeless residents by 45 percent.
Transitional Living Services of Northern New York (TLS) plans to break ground on a new facility this spring at 11 Mansion Ave. in Ogdensburg to provide temporary living quarters for 47 men in St. Lawrence County, according to Deputy Executive Officer of Transitional Living Services of Northern New York Maureen P. Caen.
A 20-bed facility for homeless men at 834 Ford St. in Ogdensburg will be remodeled to provide 17 beds for homeless women. Currently, nine beds are available for females at 627 Ford St. in Ogdensburg.
When complete, TLS will have increased the number of beds for homeless residents by 20.
“We try to fix issues that lead to homelessness,” she said.
Helping the Homeless
The single-room occupancy (SRO) accommodations are similar to a college dorm setting. People share some facilities like a kitchen and common areas. Residents are encouraged to find permanent housing within 24 months, but that deadline is not harsh.
Many TLS residents are referred by the county Department of Social Services, health care centers, domestic abuse agencies, jails, courts and churches, but others refer themselves.
“Folks do come through voluntarily … through word-of-mouth,” Caen said. “People say ‘I am about to be homeless – can you help me?’”
The people that TLS helps find themselves without housing for a variety of reasons, Caen said. “A person is not able to maintain their financial obligations due to a lost job or some other activity that leads to eviction.”
She said housing arrangements can change due to a person being hospitalized for an extended period or even relationships dissolving.
TLS provides all-around case management services. They assess people to identify and correct financial issues, apply for benefits, seek employment, help with health care issues and seek treatment for drug addiction.
According to the TLS website, residents acquire rehabilitative skills including medication management, socialization, and daily living skills
Most of the time TLS is able to help people get back on their feet, Caen said.
The number of people living in SROs more or less stays the same over time with ebbs and flows tied to the seasons, she said.
“Yes, there are times when we are full,” she said. “There is a waiting list and we are not able to place them.”
Caen said occupancy is generally at 90 percent, but that a typical wait time is just a few days. “Turnover is pretty quick,” she said, with the average stay 9 to 10 months.
In those cases people are asked to “couch surf” with friends and family, or try another avenue until a bed opens up. Social Services may put a homeless person up in a motel until there is a vacancy.
“The program has a lot of success stories – they came from being homeless and now have job and secured their own housing,” Caen said. “It’s a worthwhile program and good service to the community.”
If people are struggling to get back on their feet and exceed the 24-month expectation to find permanent living arrangements, they will not be kicked out – “if everyone is doing what they are supposed to do,” she said. “It would be counterintuitive of our service if we did.”
Finding Affordable Housing
For those looking to transition from an SRO to permanent housing, the task can be hard due to the high cost of renting. There are several agencies around that offer help with finding inexpensive places to live.
The Canton Housing Authority, a federally funded program, has provided affordable housing to low-income families, the disabled and elderly folks for about 40 years, according to Amanda St. Marie, administrative assistant with the Canton Housing Authority.
The Housing Authority owns and operates 219 units, which are used by over 350 individuals. Living arrangements include one-bedroom apartments in the high-rise on Riverside Drive that are only used for disabled or elderly people. At Law Lane on Gouverneur Street, there are 20 units for disabled and 70 two- to three-bedroom apartments with families living in them.
St. Marie said that people reach out to the housing authority when a change has caused them to lose the ability to pay for their housing or they want to seek cheaper housing.
“It could be an elderly person and their spouse just passed away and now they want more affordable housing,” she said. “A family could be going through a job change or loss of a job and now need a different place to live.”
Although the rental units are usually full, there is a waiting list for anyone interested and vacancies are generally filled within the month.
Due to legal reasons, the Housing Authority cannot expand the number of units it offers.