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Archive for December, 2010

Statements made that we can save $50-60K by moving City Hall are not based in fact. There is no empirical data to back up the assertion. The committee formed to assess the viability of such a move had only just met for the first time a couple of months ago. They will be starting the work of systematically gathering and assessing this information in January. Their task will take several months to complete.

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time out

We will be holding a meeting of the Personnel Committee to address the overtime issue in January, but I’d like to make three points:

1. Department Heads indicated during the budgeting process that allocated funding would not meet need (as you state, this is a case of “severely underestimating expenses”, as much of the OT cannot be avoided); and

2. We are hoping that once the new officer hires come on in January, APD OT will begin to level off, as the police OT budget is the most expensive and difficult to curtail of all the departments; and

3. At a certain point, if other costs (i.e., state and federal mandates, health care and retiree benefits, etc.) are not mitigated, municipalities across the State will be forced to eliminate much-needed services.

I hope the Council will come to the committee meeting with recommendations to solve this long-standing problem. We need well-researched suggestions, thoughtful deliberation and informed decision-making. Grandstanding will get us nowhere.

Lastly (I wish this were the last time I bring this up), the structure of most council committees consists of the five aldermen. We should expand these committees to include individuals from the community with specific knowledge and experience in any given area of inquiry (personnel, solid waste, budget, public safety, etc.) so that fresh ideas and perspectives come to the table. Committee mission, responsibilities and goals should be clearly articulated for each committee. This would bring new blood and order to the political process and maybe, just maybe, help resolve some of our most difficult obstacles.

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Please click on the following image to view budgetary recommendations from NYCOM’s Mayoral Task Force. It’s imperative that we all speak with a unified voice when it comes to mandate and property tax relief, so that we are loudly heard in Albany.

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season’s reason

“He changed sunset into sunrise.” ~ Clement of Alexandria

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connected

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St. Mary’s Hospital has taken the charge in coordinating a response to homelessness, as they have lengthy experience and an established network of social service agencies that are involved and qualified in this field.

The hospital invited representatives from Montgomery County Mental Health Department, St. Mary Mental Health Unit, Hispanic Outreach, Catholic Charities, St. Mary’s Foundation, United Way, and me on behalf of the City to discuss a community response to this plight. The group acknowledged that the problem of homelessness definitely exists in our area.

It was noted that this initiative had originally been spearheaded a couple of years ago with the cooperation of additional organizations and faith-based groups. The task force at that time applied for grant funding to manage temporary housing of homeless in studio apartments. The grant would have provided for staffing and associated costs. Technical assistance was sought from CARES, an Albany-based support resource, Legal Aid and Travelers Aid (which has an excellent model program to follow.) When the grant did not come through, the initiative faded in light of other needs in the community.

Through a HUD Continuum of Care program, there had been some “point-in-time” gathering of statistical data by Montgomery County Mental Health in January over the past three years. It was ascertained that there are approximately 10-15 people suffering from homelessness on any given day in a three county area (Montgomery, Fulton and Schoharie Counties). It is estimated that there may be between 3-5 homeless a night in Amsterdam. This may or may not include the “invisible” homeless that, through the generosity of friends, shift from house to house for a night or two. This could be a growing problem given the effects of the global economic crisis and is a concern as we enter into the cold, winter months.

Homelessness is a complicated, human issue. It frequently affects people with drug abuse and/or mental health issues, veterans, and those recently released from the hospital or jail, but it also affects single women, children and families. Some have short-term emergent needs; others may fall into a chronic, long-term category. It is evident that our community leaders and constituents must be educated as to who these people in need are.

The gathered agencies get calls almost on a daily basis dealing with people in crisis. Currently, folks may be given temporary shelter in local motels (the Rock Motel in Amsterdam) for a night or two, but once they leave, there is no follow up to see what may have happened to these individuals. Some chronically homeless individuals are incapable of adopting to a more permanent form of shelter because of mental health or substance abuse issues. As we have seen in the recently identified situation, the DSS requires compliance that some cannot or will not adhere to.

Specific programs were briefly discussed. Missions are generally run by faith-based organizations that survive on donations and are staffed by volunteers. Overnight guests must be sober and attend chapel services. The Donna DiMaria program is also a volunteer-run organization for chronic alcoholics that cannot maintain sobriety and cannot sustain long-term, permanent housing options. They get assistance from state and federal sources, but are now threatened, again because of the economic climate (it costs $13,500 annually to house and feed each resident. That’s one of the lowest yearly rates for such a program and a fraction of the estimated $44,000 for an adult and $210,000 for a juvenile that New York spends annually to incarcerate a person.) Schenectady’s Mission no longer accepts people from Montgomery County.

Our ultimate mission is to provide safe, hygienic opportunities to people in need. It is too soon to launch into the purchase of a particular property or establishment of a particular program, as we must be deliberate in our actions, but several tasks have been identified to start this process.

1. We must identify a plan of action to respond swiftly to the immediate need present in our community. It is our hope that we may identify strategies to this end over the next few weeks.

2. The committee will meet with the Executive Director of the Schenectady Mission to explore possible solutions that are not apparent to our group. He is an excellent speaker and will be invited to present his thoughts about the culture of poverty to our community leaders and residents in the coming months. It is very apparent that our constituency should be given the opportunity to know more about this subject.

3. Montgomery County Health will again do a “point-in-time” count this January to see what our current statistical need is.

4. We will eventually reconvene the original task force and invite the faith-based organizations to become involved, as well as the APD, to develop a sustainable program that will address the needs of those in difficult situations.

All at the table agreed that the recent confluence of events – the homeless discovered in the woods, the coverage by local media, and certainly the passionate attention of Joe Isabel – is not coincidental. We are being provided a challenge that will result in the betterment of our community. It is striking that our response once again demonstrates our greatest gift, our big hearts.

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