Homelessness Remains A Countywide Issue

Jamestown has felt its first major snow night of bone-chilling cold of this winter season.

With it comes a renewed realization that Jamestown’s economic and housing issues have led to a startling increase in the number of people who are braving these elements 24 hours a day.

In 2012, Chautauqua County had a total of 33 people classified as homeless, though none were considered unsheltered. According to statistics released last week, the number of homeless has tripled over five years to 83 people, with three considered unsheltered. Roughly a third — 31 — of the 83 homeless are Hispanic or Latino and more than half — 53 — are women. Nineteen are unaccompanied youth, including five under the age of 18. Given that the statistics are from a one-time count, we wonder if the numbers are actually worse than reported.

New York state has made money available to combat homelessness and poverty, including roughly $1.5 million over the past year. That is in addition to the efforts of local foundations and donors who support organizations like the Salvation Army and the former Jamestown Union Gospel Mission, which reopened earlier this year through the efforts of the United Christian Advocacy Network.

If there is such a thing as a silver lining, it is that the number of unsheltered homeless was only three people — a manageable number to house, particularly in our bitter-cold winter nights.

All of the other statistics, however, are discouraging — particularly for a small county. The number of people who need emergency shelter and transitional housing, however, is an indictment on the lagging local economy and the fact that the economic recovery that has reached bigger cities in New York state hasn’t yet reached Chautauqua County. For too many in our midst, all it takes is one major emergency, medical bill or car repair to render a family homeless.

We need to make sure there are enough temporary shelters and transitional housing available to help those who need it, but that treats the symptom, not the disease; and the disease of homelessness will only be cured by a thriving local economy.