‘Paddling A Boat Upstream’

Homeless Protest Outside South County Office Building

Displaced homeless Jamestown residents protested their perceived lack of housing and support services outside the Department of Social Services office, located on Fourth Street Monday.

Homeless people across Jamestown dug-in their proverbial heels Monday at the Department of Social Services building Fourth and Pine streets.

Between 15 and 20 homeless people began to protest what they perceive as a lack of assistance and help offered by government officials, along with alleged mistreatment by caseworkers and the lack of “reasonably” accessible services for all.

“I’ve had it, I’m sick of this,” said Ricard Foster, 61, of Jamestown. “I was staying at the Code-Blue Warming Center, but they are closing that. I was homeless for seven months, and it was like paddling a boat upstream trying to access services and to get any type of help.”

Additionally, for another Jamestown couple, not only is finding a place to sleep a hassle, but their police interactions have been anything but positive.

“My boyfriend and I are both homeless,” said 18-year-old Savannah Hughes, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, and now a homeless resident of Jamestown. “We were sleeping in a church’s vestibule area, out of sight, and the police came and made us move. We went to ROME (Recovery Options Made Easy) cold-blue shelter, but now that is not an option. They told us they were closing their doors unless the temperatures drop.”

A group of homeless protesters and supporters display several of the homemade signs they used at a protest held Monday, outside of the Department of Social Services office located on Pine and Fourth streets. P-J photo by Christopher Blakeslee

However, according to a county official, this perceived lack of housing and support services is simply not the case.

“We have bed space available, but we have an application process which needs to be followed,” said Carmelo Hernandez, Chautauqua County director of community mental hygiene services. “Code Blue shelter is contracted with ROME.

ROME has gone beyond what their contract called for, he explained.

New York state is lawfully mandated to provide emergency Code Blue sheltering when temperatures drop below 32 degrees or there is an imminent risk of death or serious bodily injury for those who are considered homeless because of inclement weather (Code Red as an example.)

Hernandez explained that while ROME was contracted to the shelter, they kept the shelter open for the entire winter season regardless of the weather.

“ROME really stepped up to the plate,” he said.

For one Jamestown woman who reported that she did not receive any help during her period of homelessness, but her homelessness actually led to even more problematic issues for her.

“I was homeless for three years,” said Akeyia Thagard. “But because of the stress of being homeless, and not being able to find affordable housing, I lost my daughter and became a drug addict. I am in recovery now, but I did not receive any help, treatment or support from social services.”

Michael Shaffer, a 46-year-old homeless Jamestown resident who does receive Social Security disability payments, claims the monetary payment is not enough, and more help is needed.

“I get $797.20 a month. If I can get into an apartment, I cannot afford the utilities or be able to eat. I do not have enough money to put down the first month’s rent or security deposit,” he said. “I am just trying to live.”

However, Hernandez again explained that there is help available for most of these situations.

“We have programs to help with almost all of these situations,” explained Hernandez. “However, some of the onus is on those seeking help, they must do their part. They must fill out an application and go through the process to access services and support. We have programs to help with rent, food, utilities and mental health options. … you name it, but they need to follow the process.”


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