By DAN MASKIN
November 12 through 20 is Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. Reliable estimates show that over 550 thousand people in the United States are homeless. In Otsego County, the number of homeless people has been on the rise for the last two years. Code Blue and the homeless that we encounter on Main Street are yearlong topics of discussion between local governments, non-profits, and law enforcement. But it’s equally important to know that the majority of homeless people in our community live in inadequate housing, are doubled up with family or friends or are temporarily homeless.
There is a complex shelter system in Otsego County that is designed to be temporary. But there isn’t enough housing that is affordable, so temporary shelter becomes transitional because the homeless cannot access housing they can afford. Back in 2015 or 2016, it was noted that Otsego County paid $1 million a year on emergency housing. I’m not sure what that number is today, but the main driver is high rent if rental units are available at all.
Rents are rising faster than wages. As an example, Opportunities for Otsego, Inc. operates a program that provides transitional housing financial assistance to survivors of domestic violence. While we have several approved applications, we can’t move forward because of the cost or unavailability of rental units.
Housing is a human right. It means a home, and all of the things that go along with a home. A home is like a human headquarters where people have a warm, safe place to come at the end of the day. Not having safe, adequate and affordable housing can cause post-traumatic stress for children and adults, because they don’t have the human headquarters that they so badly need. While the discussions of being homeless are linked to mental health, substance abuse and crime, the reality is that the root cause of homelessness is the failure of government to set policy around the human right to housing.
Dan Maskin is chief executive officer of Opportunities for Otsego.