County Director of Mental Hygiene and Social Services Carmelo Hernandez said there’s a lack of “brick and mortar” shelters in the county for those who are homeless or need emergency housing, “One of the main reasons that hotels are our go-to is that we don’t have the resources , we don’t have the brick-and-mortar, we don’t have the agencies coming in saying ‘Yes, we want to break ground here and we want to put something up.’ That’s going to take more conversations.”
Hernandez said homelessness existed in Chautauqua County prior to the Pandemic, but has been exacerbated as a result of issues created by the Pandemic like inflation and cost of living increases.
He said he will be having conversations with Safe Point Light House, which runs the methadone clinic in Dunkirk and also has shelters they operate in the New York City area, “I know they opened one in Erie County in Buffalo. I know they’re breaking ground in Syracuse. And I had a conversation with their former Vice President, who is now consulting with them, and told them, ‘Is this something you’re willing to bring to our county? Is this something you’re willing to invest and break ground for our residents?’ And he said, ‘Let’s have a conversation.’ So, I am going to come to Erie County to visit the brand new one that they’ve had built, take pictures of it, and take these conversations further.”
When it comes to the Budget Inn in the village of Falconer being used for emergency housing, Hernandez said that contract has been in place with the county since the late 2000s.
Recently, both local leaders and residents in the Village of Falconer voiced concerns with a rise in increased crime and disturbances surrounding the Motel.
Hernandez said the one concern raised that people are being housed where no services are available will require innovation to solve, “How do we get services inside the Budget Inn legally? How can we get the blessings from the State and really be creative in sitting down and having that conversation and being innovated in that way? That’s short term.”
In a media release, Hernandez said the County’s ultimate goal is to move away from using hotels to using expanded shelters for housing. He said that permanent supportive housing pairs affordable housing with case management and supportive services, which have been shown to not only help people experiencing chronic homelessness to achieve long-term housing stability, but also, improve their health and wellbeing.