The meeting started out with Robert Gibson, Commissioner for Social Services, describing the problem of homelessness in Columbia County. He spoke of the Department of Social Services (DSS) having in recent weeks to find shelter for 93 people every night, and the shelter provided is in motel and hotel rooms throughout the county. He said that the Galvan Foundation had approached him last February with a plan and returned in the summer with an enhanced plan. Galvan would make the 25 rooms at the Sunset Motel, which the foundation owns and is now in the process of renovating, exclusively available to DSS clientele, and 30 percent of the revenue would go to pay for services for the people housed at the motel. Gibson noted that the county was already providing transportation to Columbia-Greene Community College, and the motel was nearby.
|Robert Gibson, seated; Dan Kent, standing|
Comments in support of the proposal came from the expected sources: Tina Sharpe, of the not-for-profit Columbia Opportunities; Michael Cole, director of the Columbia County Mental Health Center; and former Fourth Ward supervisor Bill Hughes, who explained that he had been "the lead on the previous project" proposed by Galvan. Hughes praised the proposal, calling it "perfect for the homeless population" and "a model that other counties should follow."
Not everyone shared Hughes' enthusiasm. Tom Alvarez, whose modular and manufactured home business, John A. Alvarez & Sons, is located immediately adjacent to the Sunset Motel, recalled when the property was "a nice mom-and-pop motel" and went on to recount the problems that occurred when the motel was being used by DSS for emergency housing: his office had been burglarized and computers stolen; there was damage to model homes on the site; motel residents would panhandle at the entrance to his manufactured home community for seniors and come into his office to ask to use the phone. Alvarez said he wanted the homeless shelter to be in Hudson. "I cannot approve this type of facility so close to my adult manufactured homes and my operation."
Also speaking out against the plan was Jennifer Strodl, the director of the Liberi School, a one-room school for children ages 5 to 10 being operated in the building across the road and a little east from the Sunset Motel. Strodl said the school was "creating a trusting, loving environment" and wanted to know if the presence of the school, which opened three years ago, had been considered when the plan was conceived.
Two parents of children attending the Liberi School and Nicole Vidor, who revealed that she was Strodl's mother-in-law, expressed their concern about threats to the safety of children posed by sheltering homeless people in close proximity to the school. Their comments raised the fear that child molesters and sex offenders might be sheltered there, but Gibson assured them that DSS "will not put any level of danger in a situation where there are families with children." One of the parents, who said he was a volunteer fireman, spoke of emergency calls to the Yorkshire Motel four miles away, which also houses DSS clients. He predicted that the proposal "guarantees something bad will happen," saying of the Yorkshire Motel, "Terrible things happen there all the time."
The meeting began at 5 p.m. and was still going on at 6:15 when I left to go the Common Council public hearings at City Hall. I have since learned from Sarah Sterling, First Ward supervisor, who serves on the Health and Human Services Committee, that Gibson, who said of the proposal, "It's not my project, not my money, just my need," plans to meet with the people potentially impacted "to talk about how we could make this safer." Meanwhile, Sterling told Gossips that the committee has not yet seen the proposal they are being asked to accept or deny in the form of a written contract.
COPYRIGHT 2018 CAROLE OSTERINK