Newsday, July 18, 2008: Nassau unveils plan to end homelessness in 10 years

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July 18, 2008

Nassau County unveiled a plan yesterday to end homelessness in the next 10 years, calling for more rental housing, better services for the mentally ill and veterans and comprehensive tracking of local poverty.

“Nassau County is not just made up of wealthy people. We’ve got real issues of poverty and homelessness here,” said County Executive Thomas Suozzi. “We want to state very clearly that it is our goal to end homelessness.”

Suozzi did not promise new county funding for anti-poverty measures, saying the plan was a strategy for “coordinating the resources we have.”

The plan notes, however, that many of the goals require additional funding. Sean Moss, regional director for New York and New Jersey for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said Nassau’s plan puts it in a better position to compete for federal housing grants.

At a Mineola news conference announcing the 104-page plan yesterday, Suozzi estimated 500 people live on the streets in Nassau, about 1,500 live in shelters or motels, and about 20,000 live with relatives or in illegal housing. Homeless advocates at the news conference said figures were probably higher.

The plan is the culmination of 16 months’ work by a 70-member committee of nonprofit leaders, ministers, business executives, law enforcement representatives and others. Nassau is the state’s ninth county or city to make such a plan, and among 300 nationwide.

The plan listed nine goals, and the common thread running through nearly all was creating more affordable housing. Rental units make up about 17 percent of Nassau’s housing stock, a statistic that must increase for a serious effort at reducing homelessness, county officials said.

One important goal, the report said, was to persuade the public to accept more rental and affordable housing, an idea often lauded in theory but opposed in practice by locals.

“We have to remind people that when we’re talking homeless people, we’re talking about people in their own communities,” said Marge Rogatz, chairwoman of the report task force and president of Community Advocates, a Roslyn Heights-based group working on affordable housing plans.

To that effect, officials invited several homeless and formerly homeless people to yesterday’s news conference “to put a face on homelessness,” Rogatz said. Among them was John Gray, 59, a disabled Army veteran whose health forced him to quit his job as a taxi driver. Gray, who uses a motorized scooter, is currently living in the Meadowbrook Motor Lodge in Jericho because of a lack of handicapped-accessible shelters.

“I’m looking for housing now. I’d like to work again, if I can get a place,” Gray said.

The plan calls for targeting veterans at risk as they’re discharged, offering services before they become homeless. A similar effort was proposed for the discharged mentally ill.

Nassau’s strategy

Nassau County officials say they will do the following to end homelessness by 2018:

Analyze the homeless: Develop a database to track homeless, especially those not in emergency shelters.

Prevent homelessness: Mediate landlord-tenant disputes, assist homeowners in foreclosure, expand rental assistance, reach out to discharged veterans and the mentally ill, and provide more concrete plans for children aging out of foster care.

More affordable housing within 5 years: Provide rental assistance to 15,000 low-income households; build 300 new rental housing units; preserve 500 housing units through rehabilitation; help 12,000 low- and moderate-income families find housing; develop up to 200 affordable single-family homes, town houses, condos and co-op apartments; help 75 first-time homebuyers annually with down payments; create at least 1,250 more units of low-cost housing for the homeless or poor and 50 new single-room occupancy beds for the mentally ill.

More homeless shelters: Create at least 458 more shelter beds, including 203 for families and 199 for singles.

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