The Cortland County Legislature will vote Thursday on whether to give the Department of Social Services $90,000 so it can begin the startup process for a warming center to meet state requirements to give people a warm space to go to when it is 32 degrees or below.
“All I wanted to say at this point is that implementation of the governor’s code mandate is untenable,” said Kristen Monroe, the commissioner of the Department of Social Services. “The county is being put in a very precarious position. I say this because the mandate requires counties to develop more resources to meet the demand, while also requiring counties to assume financial risk pending a cumbersome and lengthy reimbursement approval process.”
The plan would be to offer a center during the evening, overnight and weekend hours since people can typically go to the County Office Building or another place to keep warm during the day, Monroe said.
- From 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. every day of the week people would got to Grace and Holy Spirit Church at 13 Court St. in Cortland. The church would also provide a space on weekends and holidays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
- From 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. every night of the week people would go to the Salvation Army at 138 Main St. in Cortland from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
- The Salvation Army would provide staff at the church whenever it is open and two staff members every night. There would also be volunteers.
Only individuals would be able to use the center, Monroe said. Families would still go to hotels.
“We don’t think children should be exposed to unknown adults, and they should be afforded a bed to sleep in,” Monroe said.
The Salvation Army and the church also wouldn’t profit from the center.
“The cost are purely to cover the newly incurred costs” like hiring staff members, buying cots and chairs and putting in simple security cameras.
“Our mission is to reach those in the community with the most needs,” said Linda Wright, the director of social services for the Empire Divisions of the Salvation Army.
She said creating a warming center would do that.
Monroe brought the idea to legislators in July, noting that the number of people needing a warm place to go has increased since the state mandate went into effect two winters ago.
There were 21 people placed in hotels or motels for the winter of 2017-18 for a total of 89 nights, at a cost of $4,000. Monroe said that number increased sevenfold this past winter to 41 people for 623 nights and around $29,000.
She also said it can be hard getting hotels to take people. Right now she has three in the county working with her but expects available rooms to fill quickly this winter if she cannot get the center going. If that happens she must look for hotels outside the county — right now she has only one that said it would work with her.
However, the warming center plan is still pending full state approval.
Monroe said the department gave its warming center plan to the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance in early September. In October the plan was accepted by the office, but now must be approved by state Department of Budget. That could take months.
“I understand the apprehension of the legislature to authorize us to spend money on a Code Blue contract to open a warming center prior to state approval, but I also do not know where or how we will keep people warm and safe overnight, given our limited motel resources,” Monroe said.
The plan included $205,000 for estimated costs for six months of operation of the center, as well as some additional costs for motel rooms “given our need to use them now pending the development of a warming center,” Monroe said.
“I have not heard of any county being denied any of their requested costs for the past three years since Code Blue began, and many approved requests have far exceeded the spending amount we have requested,” she said.
Monroe also said the staff at the center would be able to put people in touch with resources. Loaves and Fishes, which is based at the church, will offer people meals during their evening hours Wednesdays and Fridays.
“You can see there’s a need for it (the center),” said Kim Hill, the director of Loaves and Fishes. “The church members have been very supportive volunteer opportunities.”