‘Progress has been made’ in battling homelessness in Watertown

Published: Jan. 18, 2023 at 5:25 PM EST
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Those in charge of battling homelessness have changed up their plan of attack, and say progress is being made.

To help the homeless, officials had to pick and choose, between a warming center at the State Street Salvation Army, or a housing facility on Pine Street, also in Watertown.

Given financial worries and lack of staffing, both couldn’t open at the same time.

“We’re sitting here today and our Pine Street project is not open. But on the other hand, given the choice of being able to open the warming center or being able to open Pine Street, I think it’s much more important that the warming center is able to come online,” said Transitional Living Center Executive Director, Maureen Cean.

It’s a change in the approach to solving Watertown’s homeless problem, explained at a summit Wednesday led by a community steering committee.

Felicia Parker is on that steering committee, and says choosing the warming center first was important, because it provides an immediate change to a person who needs a roof over their head for the night.

“Let’s say they came into the health center and said ‘I don’t have a place to sleep tonight,’ but there are a lot of steps that we would have to take for that individual or family to get them into emergency housing,” Parker said.

Leaders also changed up their approach to working with local landlords, so those who need safe housing can find it. Eleven units at 140 High Street in Watertown are now being used.

“The county came together with the landlord, and the property manager to come up with a new model to best support the individuals living in that housing unit,” Parker said.

Once 661 Factory Street comes back online, and the Pine Street facility opens this Spring, Jefferson County will have recovered pretty much all of the 95 units the Department of Social Services lost in the last 2 years to issues like properties getting condemned, or lost to fire.

“I do think the momentum is moving forward today, but what we really did is identify a series of recommendations that help us continue and progress that situation,” said Jefferson County Administrator Bob Hagemann.

Rearranging priorities to make progress, and those leading the charge against homelessness feel they are now on a better track.