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It’s Disappointing To See Shelters Close, But Not Surprising

It was uplifting to see how quickly the Jamestown community rallied last year to open two Code Blue shelters for the homeless after the number of homeless exploded.

What a difference a year makes.

The news that neither shelter will reopen this year is a stunning reversal of fortune. The news came just as the weather is starting to turn colder – and Chautauqua County Homeless Coalition say the need for the shelters hasn’t abated.

But, in hindsight, nobody should be surprised that the shelters weren’t entirely successful. Disappointed, but not surprised.

It was always a bit much to expect that churches that sometimes struggle to find volunteers for church-related efforts would have the volunteers necessary to staff a homeless shelter. Opening a shelter is an equally heavy lift for an organization like the Mental Health Association that struggles for enough funding and manpower to handle its work on the front line of the fight against addiction in Chautauqua County. Volunteers at Joy Fellowship Free Methodist Church quickly burned out and the church had to hire paid staff to run the center. Staff weren’t trained to deal with all the issues that leave someone homeless – and it’s understandable why church officials came to the decision they couldn’t reopen this year.

The homeless aren’t pitching tents in Brooklyn Square, but they haven’t gone away. High housing costs and still-high inflation mean the pinch on those struggling to keep a roof over their heads isn’t going to relinquish its grip any time soon.

Last year’s plan was set up to work for a year, but not in perpetuity. This year’s replacement plan to send homeless to Buffalo to find shelter for the night is the flimsiest of stop-gap measures, but it’s hard to see how the county can quickly address the issues raised by the organizations that ran shelters in Jamestown last year. There is funding to raise, staff to hire and buildings to secure. It will be a challenge that will face incoming Mayor Kim Ecklund even before she formally takes office in January. With little ARPA funding remaining, Ecklund and outgoing Mayor Eddie Sundquist will have to put their heads together with the rest of the City Council and the Homeless Coalition to find a workable short-term solution while the coalition works with elected officials to find a better long-term solution and the funding to pay for it.

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