The extension of the eviction moratorium in New York has drawn criticism from local politicians, who see it as being unfair to landlords, while others say renters and landlords need to take advantage of state assistance in order to mitigate a potential housing crisis.
The eviction moratorium was extended to Jan. 15, 2022, which Gov. Kathy Hochul said was to “alleviate the crisis facing vulnerable New Yorkers who are suffering through no fault of their own.”
The Otsego County Chamber of Commerce hosted a Zoom town hall Tuesday, July 27, to discuss workforce needs for small businesses.
The participants included Congressman Antonio Delgado, D-19, State Sen. Peter Oberacker, R-Maryland, Assemblyman John Salka, R-Brookfield, Assemblyman Brian Miller, R-New Hartford, and Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-Schoharie.
The overall sentiments of the Zoom call echoed the reality of a huge problem with understaffing and the difficulties hiring employees in Otsego County.
Business owners spoke of restaurants being unable to service customers due to staff shortages and some businesses being forced to close early based on having no staff available.
Audrey Benkenstein, from Opportunities for Otsego, spoke about how many of her organization’s positions required advanced degrees and training, which made finding employees very difficult.
“We serve a vulnerable population and without staffing our programs suffer,” Benkenstein said. She said there were also lack of transportation options, lack of internet issues and lack of day care assistance available.
Main Street Baptist Church has stepped up to provide a home shelter on “Code Blue” nights this winter, when temperatures are below freezing, or the wind chill makes it feel that way.
The only obstacle is $40,000-50,000 – a one-time sum needed to enable Catholic Charities to run the program. Once it gets going, the state will fund it.
So a fundraising effort was launched this week, according to Brad Feik, liaison between the Baptist church and Caring for the Homeless Collaborative, which Fox Hospital assembled two years ago on discovering its Emergency Room was the shelter available from wintry storms.
A letter went out Monday, Dec. 7, to the county’s “faith community,” signed by the Rev. Cynthia Walton-Leavitt, pastor of Oneonta’s “Red Door” Presbyterian Church, and Jennifer Schuman, of Fox’s Homeless Collaborative.
“Any donation of any amount is welcome to make this heartfelt dream of a Community Warming Station come true,” said the letter.
A member of Main Street Baptist provided 189 Main St., a former optical store, for the warming station, according to Feik, who with his wife Noel operate Otego’s Crossroads Inn, providing sober-living housing for people released from rehab and jail, and for the homeless.
Renovations began over the weekend, said Feik, and should be completed in the next few days. The hope is to open the warming station in mid-January, at the time it’s most needed.
He estimated there are 50-60 homeless people in Oneonta at any one time, and when “Code Blue” weather arrives, 3-7 people may sleep from 7:30 p.m. to 8 a.m. In some cases, people whose furnaces runs out of oil during cold snaps will use the facility as well.
The “warming station” concept emerged two years ago from Fox Hospital’s Ethics Committee, which was concerned about removing homeless people from the Emergency Room where they congregated on cold nights because they had nowhere else to go, according to Schuman.
She called Dr. Reggie Knight, who last month was named chief physician executive for Bassett Healthcare Network, the “administrative champion” of the concept. Feik also credited Jeff Joyner,
Fox Hospital president who was recently promoted to Network COO.
“We’ve been speaking with funding sources and asking local citizens for contributions,” said Schuman.
“Code Blue” was defined a few years ago by an executive order from Governor Cuomo. Currently, on cold nights people in need of shelter must go to the Opportunity for Otsego shelter and use the term “Code Blue” to receive a voucher a night’s lodging, Schuman said.
The warming station, she said, “would be a very low barrier” for people seeking shelter, some of who are “people who have difficulty with authority.”
According to Feik, the demand for the “warming station” might actually be less than usual this winter, since COVID-19 regulations have prevented banks from foreclosing and landlords from evicting tenants.
He emphasized that the $40,000-50,000 is a one-time amount. Once the program gets going, the state Office of Temporary Disability will pay for it, Feik said, but there’s a six-month lag, and Catholic Charities doesn’t have the reserves to run the operation in the meantime.
In 2008, Joyce Mason, working as a missionary in Honduras, got an urgent message that she was needed at home in Oneonta.
“Opportunities for Otsego had decided to give the Lord’s Table two weeks’ notice that they would no longer run it,” she said. “And although they tried to limp along, it wasn’t enough.”
After locating a landline phone to talk with the staff at St. James Episcopal Church, Mason came back to Oneonta as director of the nightly feeding ministry and the Loaves & Fishes food pantry.
“I got home on May 31,” she said. “I went into work on June 2, and I’ve been here ever since.”
And at the end of the year, Mason will retire from feeding families, the elderly and the disenfranchised after 22 years of service.
“If people are hungry, you have to feed them,” she said. “That’s important. It doesn’t matter if they’re rich or poor or sideways. Anyone can come.”
A native of Forrest Hills, Mason moved to Sidney with her husband, James. He passed away in 1995, leaving her with their two sons, James and Peter.
“After they graduated high school, I became a missionary,” she said. “And I was sent to Honduras.”
But when she got back, there was much work to be done to get the pantry and the kitchen where they needed to be to serve the city’s hungry.
“When I got here, it was not a happy situation,” she said. “So much of what was in the freezers wasn’t labeled, and I had to throw everything in the dumpster. It made me very sad.”
She immediately set to restocking the fridges. “I ordered food from the Regional Food Bank and, sometimes, from restaurants or catered events, like weddings,” she said. “And I started calling every group I could get to help serve the meals.”
With the First United Methodist Church hosting Saturday’s Bread, and the Salvation Army offering the “Meal With a Message,” a hot meal is offered free of charge seven days a week in the city.
“There is no place else between Albany and Binghamton that does that,” Mason said. “And in a town this size, we’re absolutely blessed to have three meal service programs.”
In 2018, Mason spearheaded the formation of the Otsego County Hunger Coalition, creating a network of all the food pantries, feeding programs and farmers’ markets in the county to make sure everyone has access to food wherever they may be.
But there have been challenges along the way. “After the flood of 2011, we were the Otsego County Disaster Feeding program,” she said. “St. Mary’s was housing people, many of them from
Lantern Hill” – the Southside trailer park – “and we had to feed them three meals a day.’
She was preparing lunch for the flood victims one afternoon when she smelled smoke. “The food pantry was on fire,” she said.
Rather than shut down, the pantry moved into St. James and continued its ministry. “We were closed from Friday to Tuesday,” she said. “We had to keep it going.”
The pantry was rededicated in March 2012, and Mason was lauded by Father Kenneth Hunter for continuing to feed the most needy among them.
And this year, the ministries had to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the Lord’s Table to go to take-out only.
This year, 3,642 households have received food, the highest number in five years.
“It’s tough for the older people especially,” she said. “They need that socialization of sitting down and having a meal with somebody. It’s not available to us right now, but as soon as we can reopen, we will.”
It has also limited the food available at the pantry. “We’re having a lot of trouble getting beef or pork,” she said. “It’s just not available.”
While Mason is leaving her post at year’s end, she doesn’t expect to stay put for long in her retirement. “I’m a missionary at heart,” she said. “I go where I’m needed.”
COOPERSTOWN REFLECTS – 7 p.m. Join panel on Zoom to for ‘Cooperstown Reflects on Racism: History, Demographics, and Current Issues’ discussion with representatives from Oneonta NAACP, Cooperstown Graduate Program, Say Their Names exhibit, & Opportunities for Otsego. Presented by Cooperstown Village Library. Visit fovl.eventbrite.com to register.
COVID-19 TESTING – 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Otsego County residents are invited for free rapid testing for Covid-19. Find out quick, help stop the spread. Pre-registration required. Foothills Performing Arts Center, 22 Market St., Oneonta. 607-547-4279.
ONEONTA – Nine community organizations, including Helios Care, Opportunities for Otsego and Catholic Charities, have received more than $65,000 in grants from the Community Foundation for South Central New York to help the fight against COVID-19.
“Typically, we support school districts, arts organizations and human services,” said Diane Brown, executive director. “But COVID-19 hit in the middle of our spring grant cycle, so we repurposed our funding.”
ONEONTA – Citing the domestic violence and homeless shelters “essential services,” the Otsego County Board of Representatives and the county’s Department of Social Services have reopened both buildings.
“We’re happy that they have reopened and that they are helping these vulnerable populations in our community,” said county Rep. Adrienne Martini, D-Oneonta, chair of the county board’s Human Services Committee. “It’s so important that they be open and operational.”
ONEONTA – Opportunities For Otsego has announced that they will be closed until Tuesday, April 14, closing Head Start and Universal Pre-K, and relegating emergency housing services to the County, according to a release from Dan Maskin, CEO.
Essential staff will be working remotely to answer questions, and WIC and Weatherization participants with appointments will be contacted. The Violence Intervention Program staff will be providing virtual services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and violent crimes. If immediate assistance is needed, the 24-hour Crisis Hotline is operating; call (607) 432.4855 to speak with an advocate.
PERFORMANCE – 7 – 10 p.m. Support Emergency Shelter program by Opportunities for Otsego while enjoying evening of music by Steve Fabrizio Band. Features light hors d’oeuvres, raffles, cash bar. Cost, $25 at door. B Side Ballroom, 1 Clinton Plaza Dr., Oneonta. 607-433-8000 or visit www.facebook.com/ofoinc/
THEATER – 7 p.m. Classic metatheatrical play “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder portrays everyday live of residents of the fictional Grover’s Corner. Lucy B. Hamilton Amphitheater, Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown. 607-547-1400 or visit www.fenimoreartmuseum.org
As it does annually, the New York State Community Action Association has just published “Poverty in NY,” which has a poverty report for each county and city in New York State.
Otsego County has a poverty rate of 16.1 percent, meaning roughly one out of six people are living in poverty. Forty-eight percent of school children are enrolled in either the free or
reduced school meals program.
There are two distinctions at play here. The overall poverty rate is classified as 100 percent of poverty. This is a calculation of what the lowest income needs to be in order to be classified as poor by the federal government. So a family of four earning $24,000 or less is considered living in poverty.
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Hometown Oneonta & The Freeman’s Journal
ONEONTA – Daniel Maskin, Opportunities for Otsego president, wants people to rethink poverty.
“Most people who are poor work,” he said. “They’re not sitting on their porch drinking beer. But where in this county can working class families get substantial jobs that support their families? There aren’t a lot of those.”
The annual poverty report, put together by the state’s Community Action Association and released in the past few days, rated the county’s poverty rate at 16.1 percent. “Poverty is defined as $24,000 for a family of four,” he said. “That might be two parents with two kids, or a single parent with three kids,” he said.
In case you were not already aware, a single parent is a person who lives with a child or children and who does not have a spouse or live-in partner. There are lots of complex reasons for becoming a single parent including divorce, break-ups, abandonment, death of the other parent, childbirth by a single person, or single-person adoption.
With this in mind, it is important to remember that there is plenty of research to suggest that marital status in itself has very little causal impact on child outcomes, with differences more likely to be explained by the so-called selection effect (or, the difference between the types of people who choose to get married and those that choose to cohabit).
Nonetheless, there is no denying that, for young children, witnessing their parents going through the divorce process can be a traumatic experience. Correspondingly, it is vital that parents that are considering divorcing take steps to protect their children from potential harm. One way to do this is by ensuring all divorce negotiations and proceedings are overseen by a legal professional.
ONEONTA – A $10,000 Opportunities for Otsego proposal to determine the need for low- and moderate-income housing in the city and how to fill it met skepticism from a Common Council committee last night.
Still, the Community Development Committee forwarded the proposal for discussion by the full Common Council, which next meets at 7 p.m. this coming Tuesday.
OFO Housing Director Audrey Benkenstein said her organization is seeking $5,000 from the city to match the $5,000 OFO would provide. The idea is to underwrite “a process done by a facilitator” who would examine housing information and analysis done an Otsego County housing study just on Oneonta.
FLY TYING CLASS – 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. Join Otsego Land Trust for fly tying demonstrations, lessons with Craig Buckbee, licensed fishing guide, master certified instructor with Fly Fishers International. Equipment, materials provided. Prepare for spring fly casting/fishing workshop. Pizza, beverages provided. Pre-registration recommended. Pine Lake Environmental Campus, 1894 Charlotte Creek Rd., Oneonta. 607-547-2366 ext. 108 or visit www.otsegolandtrust.org/the-news/programs-a-events/429-fly-tying-class-december-12