JOHNSTOWN – The Fulton County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Monday to apply for up to $93,050 in state reimbursement funding to pay for professional staffing at Gloversville’s Code Blue temporary homeless shelter located at the former VFW Hall at 24 3rd Ave.
The vote is a significant political reversal for the board and comes a few weeks after Assemblyman Robert Smullen, R-Meco, wrote a letter to the board endorsing Gloversville’s plan to continue using the old VFW as a Code Blue shelter after operating a shelter there with volunteer staff during the last Code Blue season from November 2021 to April 2022.
Fulton County Democratic Election Commissioner G. Jerry Ryan said the board’s support for the county to act as a pass-through for the state and federal funding to run Gloversville’s shelter represents a remarkable change since 2018 when he gave a speech before the Board of Supervisors imploring them to vote to allow nonprofit entities in the county to tap into federal funds to help the homeless, which they couldn’t do without the majority of the board voting to join a state program called “The New York State Balance of State Continuum of Care.”
“I’m very happy, because four years ago you couldn’t even get anybody to make the motion,” Ryan said.
Ryan serves as a member of the board of directors for the Center of Hope, a nonprofit controlled by the Free Methodist Church of Gloversville, which established the first Code Blue shelter in Fulton County in 2020 at the church’s building at 33 Bleecker St, once the YWCA. After a protracted political controversy, the city ultimately denied the church’s application for a permanent certificate of occupancy for a Code Blue shelter, promoting an ongoing Article 78 lawsuit, after the filing of which the city government moved to establish its own Code Blue shelter at 24 3rd Ave.
Ryan said that, although he still thinks 33 Bleecker St. would be the best place for a shelter, he is glad the county finally agreed to allow funding that is available from the state and federal government to pay for the service in Gloversville.
“We’ve made a lot of progress convincing people of the reality and the problem that we have in Fulton County with homelessness,” he said.
Fulton County Board of Supervisors Chairman Greg Fagan, supervisor for the town of Perth, said the biggest factor changing the minds of the supervisors was knowing that county taxpayers wouldn’t have to pay for any of it, and wouldn’t be liable to operate the facility thanks to a contract the county and the city will sign with the Albany-based nonprofit Interfaith Partnership (IPH) to provide professional staff to operate the shelter for the next year.
“I think we worked through a process, to be honest with you,” Fagan said. “The only way the city can get that money is if the [county Department of] Social Services goes and gets it, so there was always concerns from the county of getting in the line of liability, if something were to happen. So the city has since set up a contract with IPH, and they provided that contract to the county and that gained the support to get it through. I think the ability to see that contract and knowing its the city’s facility, not the county’s. The county won’t be involved in running it and won’t have any liability for it, all we are is the conduit for the funding.”
Historically, some members of the Board of Supervisors, when giving reasons why they wouldn’t support allowing local programs to access state and federal money available to help the homeless, have expressed the moral hazard-based theory that providing government assistance to the homeless will promote an increase in homelessness and attract homeless people from other areas, often stating, “If you build it, they will come.”
The New York state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance’s “2022 Point-in-Time Count Report” shows that homeless people already live in Fulton County, and recently there has been a dramatic increase in the homeless population.
According to the Point-in-Time Count Report — based on a count of homeless people on Jan. 26, 2022 — there were 51 homeless people in Fulton County, a 460% increase from last year’s report when there were 9.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s “Continuums of Care” program requires all 8 of the counties that participate in the New York state Balance of State Continuum of Care program to conduct the annual Point-in-Time (PIT) Count surveys on the same day. The state Balance of State Continuum of Care was established to provide access to federal funding for all of the counties in New York that chose not to opt-in to the federal government’s funding streams available for homeless programing in 1987, which includes the mostly rural counties of: Fulton, Montgomery, Schoharie and Herkimer.
Although Fulton County had the highest percentage increase of homeless people, its total number of homeless people in 2022, on the count day, was similar to its neighboring counties:
- Montgomery County — 62 homeless people, up from 29 in 2021
- Herkimer County — 42 homeless people, up from 16 in last year
But, unlike Montgomery County (60 sheltered, 2 unsheltered) and Herkimer (42 sheltered, 0 unsheltered), nearly all of the homeless people in Fulton County on Jan. 26, 2022 were unsheltered, despite the survey being conducted one week after Gloversville opened its Code Blue temporary shelter at the former VFW Hall.
This year’s Point-in-Time Count Report showed that on Jan. 26, 2022 only two of Fulton County’s homeless residents used Gloversville’s Code Blue temporary shelter, eight stayed at a Domestic Violence shelter in the county and seven obtained and used Social Services hotel vouchers, leaving 34 completely unsheltered.
“In 2021, Fulton County formed a Street Outreach (SO) team funded by the (Emergency Solutions Grants Program, paid for by the U.S. CARES Act, passed under President Trump in 2020), which located dozens of people sleeping in abandoned buildings,” reads the 2022 Point-in-Time Count Report.
“The count revealed 25 chronically homeless adults and/or children — 23 of whom were unsheltered — along with 10 unaccompanied youth and two veterans,” the report said.