Questions and opinions on how to deal with the rising homeless population in Jamestown were raised during City Council‘s public forum on Wednesday.
Several questions were raised about what is being done about the homeless people under the North Main Street viaduct and for homeless women and children.
Mayor Eddie Sundquist said many people don’t realize there are only two shelters in Jamestown, with one housing men and the other housing women and children of domestic violence.
He said a census of homeless people in Jamestown has revealed new challenges, “Many years, that has been about 25 to 30 people. In the last several months, we have now seen an increase of over 70 people or more in just certain areas. So, it has risen rapidly across the city. In many cases it’s visible. We’ve always had homelessness, let’s be clear about that, it has not been as visible as it has been.”
Sundquist said the end of the COVID-19 eviction moratorium has led to increased evictions and movement of people to Jamestown.
He said he had met with over 60 local pastors Tuesday night along with council members to discuss homelessness.
Sundquist said in talking with other cities, that when faith leaders and resource providers work together, they’ve been able to tackle issues like emergency sheltering, getting resources to people, and, ultimately, getting people off the street, “That’s a model we’re trying to do right here in the city of Jamestown. And in the next two weeks we’ll be bringing both those groups together to start to look at that model. Because we’re afraid when winter comes, when the snow comes, we’re going to start to see people in abandoned homes. We’re going to potentially see people dead on the street. And that’s something we do not want to happen.”
Police Chief Tim Jackson said on every shift, officers having been meeting with the people taking shelter under the North Main Street viaduct to try to move them along while also handing out informational pamphlets about resources available for help.
Several comments were made by audience members about not wanting to give “hand outs, but hand ups” to homeless people, including not offering food to homeless but instead donating money and food to shelters and food pantries.
Mental Health Association Project Manager Sean Jones spoke up, saying “there are no hand outs in town” and that the MHA works with the homeless on a daily basis, “We help them navigate the system through the town. If there is a hand-out, yes, sometimes we give them a sandwich or a cup of coffee, but that’s how we build trust with them so they will trust us to then go through the process. And one of the things we have to go through is when we bring them to their appointment, they can sign up for help to get housing, to get food, to get medical assistance, to get a lot of different things.”
Jones said there are rules involved with getting this help, so if a participant is late or misses an appointment, they can be sanctioned for 45 days where they have to wait that entire time in order to reapply for services.
Sheriff Jim Quattrone, who had previously worked with a homeless ministry, said when it comes to homeless issues, one size doesn’t fit all, “There are some people that need that hand-out. They need it right now to survive. But then we need to do a rehabilitation. And how we talk to them, ‘How do you see yourself improving? What do you need now to survive? What do you need for the next month to survive? And then moving forward, the month after that?’ And then we have to have a development. It’s kind of like, give a fish, feed them for a day, teach them to fish, feed them for a lifetime.”
Quattrone said people should try visiting somewhere like St. Susan Center to have a non-judgmental conversation with those who are homeless or food insecure. He added that while there are a lot of resources in Chautauqua County, he’s been meeting monthly with area groups to learn what gaps need to be filled.