Oneonta Mayor Proposes New Committee
Five-point Plan To Address Emergency Sheltering Issues
ONEONTA—Oneonta Mayor Mark Drnek discussed recent updates in the ongoing housing crisis at the Oneonta Common Council meeting on Tuesday, August 15. The County Board of Representatives recently approved a measure expanding existing contracts between the Department of Social Services and Oneonta hotels to provide emergency shelter for unhoused people. Drnek’s full statement is printed below:
“I’ve had the opportunity to spend some times at the Crossroads Inn, the private enterprise in Otego offering shelter, support and expert case management for those in need. When you come to understand the good work that Noel [Clinton-Feik] and Brad [Feik] are doing there, you may feel compelled to say—as I have—‘God bless you!’
“But Noel will tell you, ‘He has.’
“This is a very special couple who have taken on a daunting charge. And they will tell you, honestly, it’s an increasing challenge. They are two among the many engaged and dedicated professionals that we’ve enlisted in support of a new paradigm… one that needs to replace current practice.
“[This is] a situation that’s grown unchecked and unchallenged, every day adding to our community’s collective concern and frustration. Without addition, Oneonta would have had its own issues with an unsheltered population, neighbors in need of mental health support and a flood of easily accessed narcotics.
“We do have neighbors in need, and as a caring and moral community, we are rightfully committed to their support. But for decades, Oneonta has been the destination to which increasing numbers have been directed, within this county and beyond.
“We do not have the housing, we do not have the services and we do not have the capacity for this to continue. What we do have is easy access to narcotics, ample opportunity for petit larceny, untenable stress on case managers and a growing population with a deep reservoir for bad decision making. The increasing threat to success for those needing care and support, to the quality of life of their neighbors, and to our city’s ability to grow and prosper, requires immediate action.
“On September 5, I will be asking the Council to support this action. I will be proposing a new City Committee, its membership to include Eighth Ward Council Member Emily Falco, Seventh Ward Council Member Ed Overbey and Fifth Ward Council Member Len Carson. Chief Witzenburg will also play a prominent role in their discussion and direction, as will dozen of connective professionals.
“Every member of the Oneonta community has the right to live in a safe place, a safe home and a safe neighborhood. Everyone on a path to recovery should have the commitment of this city and all who live here to their support and encouragement. We cannot, in good conscience, place those at such risk in and among the very temptations, issues and ills that have contributed to their current circumstance. And we cannot provide the support or the accountability that’s required, were that even an option.
“We have a responsibility to ensure that hopes for a successful future and a good life are not dashed because the system isn’t working. We need to find and agree to a new path forward.
“To that end, the Safe Homes and Neighborhoods Committee will pursue a five-point plan of action:
1. Increase community involvement and education in support of public safety;
2. Explore, determine and facilitate new and additional avenues to expand wrap-around services for Oneonta’s at-risk population;
3. Enhance accountability and reduce Oneonta’s unsheltered population through relocation within and outside the city;
4. Identify appropriate social service support for relocation or replication, and determine the mechanisms and funding required;
5. Facilitate environmental adjustments in the city’s downtown and other frequented areas as a deterrent to inappropriate use.
“The Safe Homes and Neighborhoods Committee will oversee five unique workgroups, each addressing one of those charges. The Committee will report regularly to Council, a member will attend Community-Police Board meetings as well as Community Wellness Committee meetings, at least quarterly. A member will sit on the Caring for the Homeless Coalition, and we will look for avenues to embed others in important conversations at the local and the county levels.
“Again, the half-dozen pages of this committee’s charge, and various supporting documents, will be shared with the Council in the week prior to our September 5 Council meeting. I hope that you will support the effort and approve its membership.”