For a community like New Rochelle, homelessness presents two sets of concerns. First, and most important, is our humanitarian interest in helping people overcome difficult circumstances to have better and more secure lives. Second, is our civic and business interest in ensuring that public spaces are attractive and inviting.
In Westchester, social services are entrusted almost entirely to the County government, with cities having few responsibilities. But the impacts of homelessness are certainly felt locally, and that’s why the City Council is considering a new municipal program aimed at reducing and preventing homelessness in New Rochelle.
The proposal under consideration this month would have the City contract with HOPE Community Services, an experienced and highly-regarded not-for-profit, to provide personalized case management, with the goal of linking local homeless persons to permanent housing, skills development, mental health care, and substance abuse treatment. HOPE is well-positioned to connect to the regional Continuum of Care, which follows the successful national model described in this Times opinion piece. In addition, extended hours at both HOPE and O.A.S.I.S., the local shelter, would provide an alternative to hanging out on the street. Finally, HOPE would be tasked with coordinating with other local service providers, including houses of worship.
Generous contributions from Montefiore, Halstead, and Hartz-Mountain (the new owners of the former Avalon buildings) would help to fund this initiative. The City’s share would be about $65,000. Viewed from a purely fiscal viewpoint, it seems to me that this money could be earned back quickly in the parking and sales tax revenue generated by a more inviting business district and train station.
Careful measurement of outcomes is essential, and we would extend this program only if it proved effective in reducing local homelessness. There are no guarantees, but the national experience is encouraging, and I believe this is worth trying. Here is the ordinance the Council will consider.