The number of people who are homeless has dramatically increased over the past 14 years. In Ontario, Seneca, Wayne and Yates Counties, it’s gone up 215%, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Representatives from the Rochester-based non-profit, Common Ground Health, said factors contributing to this increase include the gap between increasing housing costs and stagnant wages, and the lack of affordable housing
Family Promise of Ontario County is an organization that faces this issue head-on. It’s an emergency hospitality network that shelters families in our region.
“We keep families together,” said Executive Director Brenda Spratt said. “That’s so important when you’re a child and you’ve lost everything you have. And now you’re going to a shelter. If we remove a parent, it’s really traumatic.”
Spratt said they served 14 families in their shelter this year. But that’s not the number of families that needed help.
“We also served, It’s probably in the neighborhood of 50 or 60 families that came to us for emergency rental assistance or utility assistance,” she added.
Spratt said she believes housing developments should set aside a few units to charge fair-market rent.
“If you set aside a few units in every complex that you build we will work with people,” she said. “We will screen them, we background check them.”
And in certain areas, the is such a big gap in income, the median income isn’t accurate, she said. That’s because, they said, the small amount of people making hefty salaries brings up the average disproportionately.
“The ability to collect complete homelessness data is limited due to such factors as the time of year data are collected and the forms of sheltering used,” Zoë Mahlum, health planning research analyst with Common Ground Health said. “While urban areas tend to heavily utilize shelters, rural and suburban areas see a higher prevalence of people seeking shelter in vehicles, tents, hotels or motels, or doubling or tripling up with relatives. As a result, many homeless individuals and families are difficult to locate, are not included in the data and represent ‘hidden homelessness.’ ”
Common Ground said greater local and national collaboration is needed to address the social and systemic issues at the root of the problem.
“At this time of year, as the weather grows colder, we know that unhoused families are making difficult choices to try to stay together and stay warm,” Spratt said. “Organizations like ours need the support of the entire community to ensure that all families have a place they can call home.”
Rebecca is a veteran multimedia journalist serving as one of our core reporters in the Finger Lakes region. She is responsible for telling stories that matter to every day Upstate New Yorkers. Have a question or lead? Send it to [email protected].