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Cuts in state funding for homeless shelters could leave people out on the streets

Andrew Hyman
Created: October 13, 2019 11:39 PM

ROCHESTER N.Y. (WHEC) — Four Rochester area groups who help the homeless are now scrambling to figure out their next steps. This comes after they lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funding.

"It's kind of scary," said Pastor Jon Soza.

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Soza works at the Salvation Army of Greater Rochester. When we caught up with him, he and a fellow organizer were stocking up on donated gloves and hats to prepare for the colder weather. But Soza says the organization was not prepared to hear the news.

Last week, organizers at the Salvation Army, the Young Women’s Christian Association of Rochester and Monroe County, Volunteers of America-Rochester, and Spiritus Christi all received notice they would not be receiving grant money for at least the next five years. 

Altogether, the organizations lost more than $550,000 in funding:

  • Salvation Army ($247,860)
  •  YWCA ($174,331)
  • VOA ($101,745)
  • Spiritus Christi ($32,657)

The funding is part of the Solutions to End Homelessness Program (STEHP), which is run by the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. The program assists individuals and families to stay in or find permanent housing. The program also supports programs like transitional shelters or drop-in centers.

"We hope it's not a trend," said YWCA CEO Angela Panzanella.

Panzanella says the organization not only provides temporary housing but also assists the homeless in finding more permanent housing. She says the grant money was critical to keeping the organization afloat and now, its future is in jeopardy.

"We're facing the issue of potentially scaling back or unfortunately even closing our homeless operation," Panzanella said.

According to Panzanella, closing down the organization would force people to seek out other means of emergency shelter, which may include hotels. According to an annual Housing/Homeless Service Report issued by Monroe County, 17% of emergency housing was in hotels, which Panzanella says was due to a lack of space.

Last year, Monroe County saw a 19% increase in people using temporary housing. Now with the recent cuts, Soza says more than 2,000 people could be affected, which could lead some people back out on the streets.

"I’ve seen the misery and the hardships these people live in," said Soza. "My fear is that tent city is going to be filled with more people now."

The City of Rochester has dealt with “tent cities” before. 

News10NBC reached out to OTDA and they sent us this statement:

“All requests for funding went through the competitive bidding process, which ranks each application. Due to the highly competitive nature, only the highest-ranking proposals were able to receive funding during this cycle.”       

Even with the future uncertain, Panzanella is calling on the state and other government funders to work with them.

"We will look together for a long term solution, but we need help," she said.

Back at the Salvation Army, they're calling on support from the community.

"We're hoping the people of Rochester will rally around us," Soza said.

According to organizers at Spiritus Christi’s prison outreach program, they may need to make some staff cuts to a program that helps homeless ex-offenders.


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