WATERTOWN — Carthage area officials continue to press Jefferson County for a different solution to house a number of Department of Social Services clients who they say have become a nuisance to the community.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the County Council of Legislators’ Health and Human Services Committee, West Carthage Mayor Scott M. Burto and Champion Councilman James Uhlinger implored the county to expedite work on the housing and poverty issues of the area, which they believe contribute to the problems they face in West Carthage.
For months, Mr Burto and other area leaders have repeatedly spoken out about the problems caused by residents of the Pleasant Night Inn on North Broad Street. They said residents, many of whom are housed there under agreements with the county DSS for emergency housing, have made area business owners uncomfortable, caused a significant increase emergency calls to the hostel and reduced the quality of life for nearby residents.
“Recently we’ve had a number of issues in our businesses,” Burto said.
He said there had recently been a week-long period in which the village police were called in to respond to problems from nearby businesses once or twice a night.
The West Carthage Village Board recently passed a resolution to hold business owners accountable for wrongful fire service calls made from their properties.
The owners of the Pleasant Night Inn could not be reached for comment. Court records indicate that the business was recently sold to a limited liability company owned by Ghanshyam R. Patel, who is one of the parties to the sale. Property records also show that the company took out a mortgage on the hotel for $575,000 on January 21.
Mr. Burto said it was also not useful to house people in the care of the DSS – people who usually need extra resources – in a village miles away from the agencies that offer services.
“The system we have now is not working,” he said. “It doesn’t provide them with the services they need to get help. Our community doesn’t have the services it needs, and locating them here doesn’t help them or us.
Jefferson County DSS has always worked with local hotels and motels to provide emergency housing for at-risk residents. If someone comes to DSS with an urgent need for housing, the department can accommodate them in a hotel that has agreed to provide available space for an agreed price.
Last year, a rooming house in Watertown that provided more permanent housing for DSS clients and a motel that provided emergency housing closed abruptly. In 2020, the Rainbow Motel north of Watertown, which also provided emergency accommodation, burned down. The result has been a significant shortage of emergency housing in the immediate Watertown area.
DSS officials began placing people in hotels and motels as far away as Gouverneur, just across the county line in St. Lawrence County.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Legislator John D. Peck, R-Carthage, who represents the city of Champion, said he respects the situation West Carthage finds itself in.
“This is certainly a problem that was imposed on the village of West Carthage after the closure of circumstances in the city of Watertown and other placement centers that we had for the homeless last year”, did he declare.
Peck said homelessness and helping people at risk of losing their homes is relatively new in Jefferson County. The county has long relied on the stock of cheap temporary housing units provided by aging motels and rooming houses, and as that dried up, the problem got worse. He said things are about to get worse too.
“There are certainly rumors that as the courts open up more and the eviction moratorium ends, there could be more homelessness than we will experience in the months to come,” he said. he declares.
Mr Peck said the residents of the Pleasant Night Inn are there because there really is no other place to house them, a problem officials are working to correct.
“I think it’s certainly incumbent on all the resources that we have and our agencies to work a little harder, and faster if possible, to develop the resources and the capacity to help respond,” he said. he declares. “This is an issue that will haunt us for some time, and not every community has the resources to address it.”