The cost of caring for the homeless

Published: Nov. 11, 2021 at 5:00 PM EST
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WEST CARTHAGE, New York (WWNY) - The cost of taking care of the homeless in Jefferson County: 7 News has learned the deal the county has with West Carthage’s Pleasant Night Inn is worth more than $35,000 a month, if the county uses every room it has reserved for people getting help through the Department of Social Services.

That bill is on county taxpayers. But, the mayor of West Carthage argues there’s an extra cost to his village residents.

In all of 2020, police responded to the Pleasant Night Inn 14 times. But since DSS relocated people there over the summer, that number has skyrocketed to 108 times this year.

Mayor Scott Burto says that puts a burden on his part-time police force and volunteer fire department.

“It’s putting volunteers in a very unsafe, unnecessary situation,” he said.

Burto says his police force and volunteer firefighters are being strained with the number of calls coming from the Pleasant Night Inn. There were 108 calls in 2021; 83 of them coming since July 1.

“There’s a fire alarm, with a pulled fire alarm. It was a reported structure fire, so we were rolling in a number of departments and equipment. But then you have your fire chief walk into a situation of two guys fighting with a crowbar,” said Burto.

He says the county needs to develop more options for housing the homeless. But, Jefferson County Legislator John Peck says it’s not that simple.

“The impact locally is based on closure of two hotels and the building on Factory Street this summer. So, it became a crisis situation,” he said.

Peck is talking about the Rainbow Motel, which burned down last year, and the Relax Inn Motel, which closed this summer. All locations were frequently used by the county to house homeless people.

“The convenient way of picking that problem up and moving it to West Carthage is not the answer,” said Burto.

Burto says the county needs to be doing more to help homeless people. He mentions the closed prison at Dry Hill or maybe empty buildings on the campus of the Children’s Home of Jefferson County.

Peck says he’ll consider it.

The owner of the Pleasant Night Inn said he’s happy to take the extra people because his business would be in trouble without the extra dollars.

And not everyone causes problems. We spoke with one person living at the Pleasant Night Inn who says she’s been there with her husband for nearly three weeks, and says she’d be homeless if not for the Pleasant Night Inn.

“We wouldn’t have anywhere else to go, we’d be homeless, or sleeping in tents,” said Melony Gray.

The county and DSS are paying for the temporary housing at the hotel, which costs up to $35,000 a month. It’s money that comes from the budget for DSS, which totals more than $40 million.

Gray echoes what the county has said all summer - there aren’t a whole lot of options for people in her situation. She says most apartments are either too expensive or not well-maintained.

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