On Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors Human Services Committee held a special meeting to discuss the two proposals received for providing housing for chronically homeless people in Columbia County. The first words spoken by committee chair Betty Young (Taghkanic) requested a motion to go into executive session. She was prepared for an objection from Register-Star reporter Nathan Mayberg. She'd brought county attorney Robert Fitzsimmons to the meeting, who was ready to recite, on cue, the justification for an executive session: they would be discussing the "medical, financial, credit, or employment history of an individual or corporation." As an added measure, since Fitzimmons was there to counsel the committee, they invoked "attorney-client privilege." Mayberg tells the story in today's Register-Star: "Homeless housing talks closed to public."
When the committee came out of executive session, Supervisor Bill Hughes (Hudson 4) announced that the proposals received were "not responsive to what the county is looking for" and proposed that the committee reject them both and "authorize the commissioner [Paul Mossman] to enter into a professional service contract to meet the needs of the county." When Debora Gilbert, who often writes for Columbia Paper, asked what needs weren't met by the proposals, she got a less than clear answer from Fitzsimmons which included such expressions as "apples to apples" comparison and "turnkey solution."
Just as the County frittered away time and money looking for a new site for the Department of Social Services, it now seems to be frittering away time and money looking for a way to address the problem of homelessness. In 2010, the County engaged the services of consultant William Moon to assess the homeless situation in Columbia County and make recommendations. His recommendations, which were reported in two articles by Francesca Olsen in the Register-Star ("DSS can do better" and "Ditch the motel model"), led to the County's ill-fated attempt to create the "congregate housing" suggested by Moon in a building owned by Phil Gellert on Columbia Street.
In 2011, there was another study, this one done by CARES Inc., which promised to tell us how to end homelessness in Columbia County. Judging from an article about the study by John Mason, which appeared in the Register-Star, the recommendations did not seem to be the three-tier model that the County now seems to be pursuing, but who can tell? Neither Mossman nor the members of the Human Services Committee seem able to articulate--at least not in public--what the County is looking for beyond the kind of generalities expressed by Hughes at Wednesday's meeting: "We want to provide wraparound services . . . services [homeless people] need to integrate back into the workforce." No one would disagree with that as a goal, but there doesn't seem to be a clear notion of what works to achieve the goal.