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Cayuga County may convert former Sennett nursing home to homeless shelter

The Citizen - 7/26/2019

Jul. 26--The Cayuga County Legislature has taken a preliminary step in a process that could eventually transform the former county-owned nursing home into an emergency housing shelter.

The Legislature approved a resolution Tuesday presented by Director of Community Services Ray Bizzari to issue a request for proposals from service providers to convert the former nursing home in the town of Sennett into a temporary shelter for the county's homeless population.

The plan, Bizzari said, would allow the county to save significantly compared to what currently spends on state and federally required emergency housing, while also providing a higher level of service for vulnerable people.

Currently, the county provides emergency housing through several shelters including Chapel House and Ray of Light, a domestic violence shelter, and in hotels or motels when shelters are at capacity, which is considerably more expensive.

Bizzari said projections estimate the county will spend $1.32 million on emergency housing by the end of 2018, compared to $784,768 in 2018 and $637,861 in 2017, and the trend is unlikely to reverse.

"It's not something we can afford to not pay attention to," Bizzari said.

Under the proposal, all single men and women as well as families would be sheltered at the nursing home, which Bizzari said has the capacity to meet the county's needs for a decade or more.

Sex offenders, which the county is required to house, would stay at another shelter, keeping them separate from families and other vulnerable individuals while also saving on the cost of housing them in motels.

Besides temporary housing assistance, a small section of the facility could be used to provide permanent, supervised housing for the hard or impossible to house, Bizzari said.

Eliminating the use of motels would allow the county to save on the direct cost, the staff-time needed to juggle arrangements, damage expenses, and also deter the few who come to Cayuga County seeking motel housing or shelter beds.

Bizzari noted that such cases are rare though, as almost all the cases the county deals with involve individuals with untreated mental illnesses, substance abuse problems, or are victims of domestic violence.

"Very few people are homeless because they want to be. They're in a jam," Bizzari said.

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