Saturday, July 28, 2012

Dissenting Opinion

At the meeting of the Board of Supervisors Human Services Committee on Wednesday, July 18, Art Bassin, the supervisor from Ancram, asked Paul Mossman, Commissioner of Social Services, if he had been "in conversation with the City of Hudson." Bill Hughes, Hudson supervisor from the Fourth Ward and now outspoken supporter of the Galvan proposal, took it upon himself to answer. He claimed the project has the support of Mayor Bill Hallenbeck and Common Council President Don Moore--both of whom were present and confirmed that--and of the aldermen from the Second, Fourth, and Fifth wards. Ohrine Stewart (Fourth Ward) and Wanda Pertilla (Second Ward, and Hughes' sister) were present at the committee meeting, but neither spoke. No mention was made of the aldermen representing the First and Third wards.

Earlier today, Alderman Nick Haddad (First Ward) made known his opinion of the plan to shelter all the county's homeless in Hudson. Haddad agreed to let Gossips put his statement, which originally appeared on a listserv, before a wider audience. What follows is Haddad's statement:
Let us not for a moment confuse "homeless shelter" with the appropriate sympathy the description conjures. 
This is the "industry of poverty and want" purely and simply. A private organization attempting to capitalize upon the perceived needs of a community which over the past twenty years has striven mightily by dint of its industrious merchants and residents to pull itself out of the morass of all too well meaning but misguided Federal and local programs which have been proven unsustainable.
The CARES report for Columbia County obviates the reasoning put forward for this proposal. The privatization of services for issues which are solely the responsibility of the County and the local officials in its cities and townships is the all too convenient fall back position of local officials pushing the onus forward. Under the delusion that somehow it will save the taxpayers money by postponing the inevitable financial burden to be shouldered by another generation. 
Simply put the math doesn't work in the short or long term. The only way it works for the developer is to "import" homeless single males to populate the proposed facility. The proposal does not address the needs of homeless families or the children thereof in any meaningful sense.
Our responsibilty is to care for the needs of our own, within our extended community, [and] we must make every effort to end the homeless situation in Columbia County. And by doing so in some measure we can help the needs of the many. DSS must do its job and do it well.
The "poverty industry" is not an industry we wish to encourage or invite into our community. It doesn't create jobs, it isn't a sales tax generator and it is non-contributory to the body politic.
We owe ourselves and those in need better than this concept, as do our elected officials.


  1. Bravo!!

    The alderman provides genuinely compassionate and clear thinking to an argument that's chronically exploited by the demagoguery of the poverty industry. That industry has honed its language to leverage the guilt of those who don't have the time or patience to study how the business really works.

    I thank the alderman for his closer look, and for opting to highlight the needs of Columbia County's homeless families and their children instead.

    For an excellent study of the problem, sociologist Myron Magnet's "The Dream and the Nightmare" distinguishes between homeless families and single homeless individuals, who are mostly men.

    In sharp contrast to statistics for homeless families, Magnet reported that "in New York City shelters, 65 percent of the homeless singles tested by urinalysis showed positive results for drugs or alcohol, with 83 percent testing positive for cocaine" ....

    "At least 40 percent of the single homeless nationwide have been in jail, for an average of two years. Somewhere between 13 and 26 percent of the incarcerated, depending on which study you pick, served their time for major crimes or felonies. While some of the criminal homeless landed in jail for crimes committed after they became homeless, the majority - 63 percent - were criminals first and homeless second. So for most of this group, one can't argue that homelessness drove them to crime. Putting it mildly, all this adds up to something very different from the mainstream impression the advocates have tried to evoke (p. 81).

    We're talking about the same demographic that spawned the industry that has Hudson in its sights. This is just the next huge mistake supported by the usual people.

  2. A reader, bamboozled, as many are, by the Blogger commenting system, submitted this comment:

    This posting, summed up the situation perfectly. Well, Now what? Do we allow a select group to decide what's best for all the residents of Hudson, or do we let the city officials know that WE The People are in control of our city. Please let's all scream STOP. The officials of Hudson both elected and appointed should be made to understand that they cannot ramrod through issues that will affect our citizens and not necessarily benefit them. There was never a thought given to the feelings and desires of the citizens of this city. At no time did this decision, which seems to be a done deal by some, concerning the shelter, take into account another location, a better alternative, or the actual cost of taking an existing structure in the city as a destination for this project.

    Edward Stoler

  3. Excellent statement by Alderman Haddad. Dennis Culhane at the University of Pennsylvania is a highly respected nationally known researcher on the subject of homelessness and co-occurring disorders. Twenty five years ago Culhane was the principal investigator on a major study of the explosion of homelessness in NYC. I was the program officer at a large foundation which funded much of that research. Over the years many of us have come to know that homelessness is now less of a problem than the bloated multi million dollar institutions that have grown to support homelessness and depend on its continued existence to survive. The close political relationships forged between some NYS agencies and some nonprofits ensure that the institutionalization of homelessness, addiction, and mental illness will continue. There are nonprofits in NYC that are now too big to fail. Continued funding by NYS agencies to nonprofits depends on meeting benchmarks/outcomes, on best practices, on utilization management. Paperwork which makes everyone, especially funders, believe they are doing the work necessary to combat homelessness and its collateral ills. In an op ed piece in the Washington Post a couple of years ago Culhane pointed out extensive research that points out the five essential myths of homelessness: (1) Homelessness is a long-term condition. (2) Most homeless people have a severe mental condition. (3) Homeless people don’t work. (4) Shelters are a humane solution to homelessness. (5) There will always be homeless people. Much of the response to homelessness in NY was built on these myths. It is unfortunate that Columbia County is about to follow in the tradition of mistakes made in the effort to "end" homelessness and ensure that #5 continues there.

  4. In reply to the bamboozled commenter above, contributions by two other posters this week richly deserve re-reading, especially for anyone new to Hudson. Read and weep:

    1. "The City of Hudson paid absolutely no attention to the passionate outpouring of sentiment expressed by the citizens regarding our waterfront, so there is no reason to think that our voices will make any difference on the homeless issue. We're stuck in a frustrating dilemma; a small, vibrant city with amazing potential, but led by people who don't have a clue." (7/26, "The Public's Chance to Speak")

    2. "In Hudson governing bodies are an extension of the private sector. Most deals are done behind closed doors; public meetings are a kind of window dressing. By the time these projects are presented, they have been vetted by the insiders. There is no process by which public opinion is actually solicited in advance of decisions; and there is no mechanism for measuring community impact of decisions. It is a squeaky-wheel model of governing. It's a bad model. But its seductive. Too many people get elected to office and think that they have been annointed "expert" (and King) of whatever issue comes before them.... We've got to get people in public office who actually believe in being public servants." (7/27, "Galvan Homeless Shelter Moves Forward")

  5. Unheimlich, I don't think Magnet did any original research in the NYC shelter system but relied on the work of others to interpret from his point of view and write about in the conservative/libertarian City Journal. Much has changed since then. NYC made a major policy mistake back then in promising subsidized housing to homeless families. Families, many not homeless, jammed the shelter system to overflowing in order to get housing. It took years to fix that mistake. Magnet's single male demographic was based on the Armory shelters. They were hell holes and do not reflect at all the general single homeless population. Most shelters are run by nonprofits and what I call the too big to fail nonprofits are the ones which provide addiction services, mental health services, housing, health care clinics, jobs programs, family programs, prison programs, AIDS programs, etc. Many of their CEOs make in the six figures while their worker bees are on food stamps and live in subsidized housing. It is a growth industry. I know a couple of these places well and wish they were publicly traded. Folks who have been around a long time tell me this was all taken care of for free in church basements once. Church volunteers set up cots, fed people, hooked them up with AA sponsors and other resources, and sent them on their way in a matter of days. Valid, scientific research shows that most homeless singles are homeless once in their lifetime and usually no longer than a few days. By the way, an excellent research piece out of Stanford looked at race as a factor in homelessness. Research found that homeless white people have often lost ties to family and friends due to addiction, hispanics have deep ties to family, and blacks have close ties to their family and to their churches. These are important findings in terms of prevention and moving people out of homelessness quickly.

  6. Ms. Stone, it almost seems as if you're being peremptorily dismissive of Magnet's point of view simply for being different than your own.

    I can imagine that things have changed somewhat in drug use since the aforementioned New York Commission on the Homeless urinalysis studies (not least of which would be the specific drugs detected!), but what has changed about human nature where the former crime statistics are concerned?

    I admire your faith in people, but only up to a point. Beyond that I'll trust my own prudence.

    For example, I don't require a researcher to reveal that "homeless white people have often lost ties to family and friends due to addiction, hispanics have deep ties to family, and blacks have close ties to their family and to their churches." I agree that those are useful distinctions that help us contextualize individual drug-related and criminal lapses.

    On the other hand, I'd fully expect cutting edge research to happily ignore the implications of extremely low percentages of Asian-American homeless overall. That group would offer the least gratifying comparisons for the run-of-the-mill homeless advocate's required narrative; e.g., a subcultural emphasis on family obligation, hard work, and advancement through self-application are an uncomfortable fit where inflexible socioeconomic theories and an incorrigible entitlement mentality continue to dominate academe and the social services alike.

    But I admit those are generalities; perhaps true, but still general.

    Instead, I certainly agree with your warnings about the "too big to fail nonprofits," and I have learned a lot from you about your laudatory short-term approach. Those are useful specifics.

    I will not try to defend Mr. Magnet, but I hope that you will do me the honor of not pigeon-holing me into a convenient political category in order to dismiss my perspective.

  7. and why are we putting mostly homeless men with drug and alcohol problems within a very short distance of the middle school in hudson? is that the innocent environment eric galloway and company want to force upon the children of the immediate community ?
    i would like to ask the mayor and supervisors if they want their children near that.

  8. Methinks they're mostly about the money, 150ddd6c-9a2a-11e1-a39e-000bcdcb8a73.

    But I hope you ask 'em anyway.

  9. allegedly a third of the homeless are vets who return to nothing left of their lives

    1. United States Veterans Administration

      Housing Assistance

      "Those who have served this nation as Veterans should never find themselves on the streets, living without care and without hope."
      – VA Secretary Eric Shinseki

      On this page:
      ■Housing Assistance For Veterans
      ■Information For the Community
      ■The Grant and Per Diem (GPD) Program
      ■Acquired Property Sales for Homeless Providers Program
      ■Is a Veteran You Know at Risk of Losing Housing?

      Housing Assistance For Veterans

      Housing assistance for homeless Veterans and their families is available through several federal programs.

      The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and VA Supportive Housing Program (HUD-VASH) partner to provide permanent, supportive housing and treatment services for homeless Veterans.

      HUD allocated nearly 38,000 “Housing Choice” vouchers across the country, which allows Veterans and their families to live in market rate rental housing while VA provides case management services. A housing subsidy is paid to the landlord directly by the local public housing authority on behalf of the participating Veteran. The Veteran then pays the difference between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the amount subsidized by the program. The case management services facilitate the attainment of the Veteran’s recovery goals. The HUD-VASH Program is for the most vulnerable Veterans, and provides special services for women Veterans, those recently returning from combat zones, and Veterans with disabilities. Learn more about the HUD-VASH Program.
      Back to Top

      Information For the Community

      If you know a Veteran who is homeless or at risk of homelessness, you can make a difference. VA provides extensive resources and support for Veterans through community partners and directly to Veterans facing homelessness. Everyone should know VA helps find housing for homeless Veterans.

      Be a hero and help connect Veterans with the services they have earned.

  10. unheimlich, no, I'm not being dismissive of Magnet nor you but those stats are 25 years old and, IMHO, are not relevant today. At the time The City Journal was not off base in its condemnation of the shelter system in NYC. In fact, I was sourced by Heather McDonald of the Manhattan Institute regarding the private foundation response to homelessness in NYC so I guess that gives me some conservative heft. One presumes that CARES has up to date stats on the homeless singles in Columbia County. Two things: it is important to know about ties to community and family for the purposes of designing outreach and prevention programs in targeted neighborhoods for the purpose of keeping people out of homelessness. Second, Vincent is right in pointing out that vets make up a significant number of homeless singles. The VA has money for housing and services, the nonprofits have money for specialized vet programs, clinics have money, hospitals have money. All these so called safety nets and yet some vets end up on the street. Blame the vet or blame the institutions set up to help the vet? My finger always points at the institutions and that is why I am so critical of the Columbia County plan to set up a new and expensive system of services to cover for the programs already in place. I am reminded of one homeless man in New York who ran up a $750,000 Medicaid bill in detox expenses in one year about five years ago. He was the poster boy for everything that is wrong with our system of services. Simply put, NYS OASAS wanted to reduce detox use because it was found to be a level of care nobody much needed and was an alternative shelter system for some folks. But detox is a hospital money maker. NYS Medicaid did not want to release information to OASAS regarding expenditures. Back and forth, back and forth between the state lawyers. A move to shut down various medically managed detox units was floated. The NYS hospital association weighed in on their money maker. Blame the homeless guy or blame the institutions?

  11. Brava, Ms. Stone. Your analysis of the cycle of failure in homeless policy mirrors that of our education system. We reward practices built on myths. It's a hard cycle to break, Hudson being exhibit A.

    thank you.

    peter meyer

  12. Ms. Stone, thank you for the thoughtful reply.

    I agree with Mr. Meyer that you are on the right track.

    Vincent's comment was also quite sobering.

    But because I am surrounded by crime where I live in Hudson, crime is my principle concern.

    I did try my best to locate more recent statistics concerning the predilection, if any, for criminality in the single male homeless.

    You'd know better than most the number of cross-references between the words "homeless" and "criminality" (or "incarceration"), and you'd be quite capable of explaining the unfairnesses of taking such statistics at face value where the down and out are concerned. I would agree that the question calls for a great deal of sympathy and nuance.

    That is why I'd like to see updated statistics for those who "were criminals first and homeless second," to use Magnet's phrase.

    Perhaps in their tireless effort to "educate" the un-nuanced public to beware taking justice system statistics at face value, the usual advocacy groups and their attendant academics have opted not to even ask such questions anymore. Maybe the underwriters for such research have lost interest in the question out of mistaken concerns about "political correctness."

    The information would be useful just the same.

    If applicants could be vetted for criminal predilections, I'd feel a lot more confident about who we were intending to invite into our midsts.

    1. unheimlich, CARES NY administers the Homeless Management Information System for Columbia/Green Counties. If you go on their website and look at the reports under the Homeless Management Information System you will find some of the information you are seeking. The statistics should erase many of the entrenched myths about homelessness.

    2. Thank you Kate Stone. I will definitely give it some study (and I doubt I'd have found it otherwise). T

    3. Keep in mind that the stats are not scientific -- they are based on self report and/or case manager observations. Nor, do they answer your questions about criminal convictions. And a great many questions are unanswered which is a pity. Still, I noticed that a large number of the homeless are employed. I remember the Galvan attorney stating that the shelter did not need parking spaces because the people in the shelter would not have cars meaning, I surmise, that the homeless did not work. The HMIS info should be handed out to everyone who attends the public hearing along with a 3 month compilation from DSS of the daily shelter census count.

    4. "Self-reporting" probably works something like like self-deporting!

      Because my main concern is about the potential for recidivism, can there be eligibility criteria in any of these programs? In that regard, might there be a difference between public and private funding? Or do eligibility standards wholly defy the essence and nature of possible solutions to the specific issue of homelessness?

      Without hard statistics, and relying only on self-reporting of criminality, I have to say I'm not encouraged.

      Considering the limited public money that's been available for research on homelessness, researchers may have been preoccupied or even overlapping on questions that are not priorities to me.

    5. DSS has a legal obligation to screen and provide emergency shelter to someone who meets the definition of homeless whether the shelter is public or private as the one proposed for Columbia County will be. NYC is constantly fighting the right to shelter law and if you read today's NY Daily News about the families leaving other states and PR to fly to NY and go into the shelter system you will know why. In ref. to your more local concerns my question would be how many police calls are made to the motels in a given year and how many are evicted from the hotels due to criminal behavior while sheltered by the County. The HMIS will tell you something about people going into the shelter but it is not clear to citizens what is going on while they are there. There may be no criminal behavior and few police calls. People should no that, or the opposite. Why is the length of stay for families so long? People should no why? What is the average length of stay for singles? How many singles are churning through time and time again. You really want to know that because it is about a system break down somewhere. How many are mentally ill, addicted, both?

    6. Thanks again Ms. Stone.

      I guessed that the obligation that comes with providing succor to the homeless would restrict any sort of eligibility screening, but I wasn't certain. (After all, where else could someone turn once they'd reached the very bottom?)

      The Daily News story describes the mess I observed in Europe 10 years ago. Social service policies varied by country. The extent of illegal immigration, much of it from Africa, was astounding, and burdened some country's systems to the breaking point.

      The questions you recommend are all excellent ones, and the answers to them should form the basis of any reasoned decision about any of this.

      The fact is, accessing police statistics for the City of Hudson alone is incredibly daunting. It appears the information is held very close.

      Recently a County Supervisor attempted to get the HPD to offer up better statistics at the council's police committee meetings, but I don't know how far she got with that. Probably not very.

  13. Kate, I'd love to speak to you about your observations and thoughts on this subject as the City prepares to try and deal w/ the shelter plans the County has been contemplating. It would be very helpful I think to get the benefit of your experience. If you can and are willing, please give me a call (828.2353) when you have a few moments.

  14. Thank you, Kate. It's greatly appreciated.

  15. The location of this facility seems to place its potential inhabitants directly in harm's way: 5th & State is already a highly problematic location with serious drug-related problems. The probation office is on State between 6th & 7th. Why would anyone is his/her right mind relocate recovering addicts and/or previously incarcerated adults precisely in a location that offers possibly the highest potential for relapse?