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Local agencies to share $900,000 to help eradicate, prevent homelessness

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North country agencies will use $900,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help eradicate and prevent homelessness.

The federal grant was made to the Continua of Care housing coalitions in Franklin, Essex, Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties to continue funding projects. A bulk of the funds, $748,795, went to the Jefferson County Department of Social Services.

“We spend it all,” said Laura C. Cerow, Jefferson County DSS commissioner. “In fact, we’ve overspent. When we got the Shelter Plus Care grant, we had far less people showing up at our door with emergency homeless needs.”

Shelter Plus Care is a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program designed to provide housing and case management for homeless people and their families. The case management component is important, Mrs. Cerow said, because if people don’t have a permanent home, they’re not likely to make medical appointments or perform other personal necessities.

The department will work with the disabled population because “they’re very transient in housing,” Mrs. Cerow said. For people to receive those services, they must agree to case management.

Part of the DSS money includes help for people to remain in their homes, in order to prevent homelessness.

According to a news release from the North Country Behavioral Healthcare Network, a Saranac Lake agency that helped coordinate and complete the grant application, the federal money will be used to “support emergency, transitional and permanent supportive housing for the homeless and homelessness prevention efforts for those at-risk of becoming homeless.”

At the Mental Health Association in Jefferson County, a $74,000 award will help people who are mentally ill with transitional housing. Executive Director Theodore R. Stiles Jr. said the agency has three apartments in back of the agency, 724 State St., specifically for the homeless prevention program. Case managers will work with clients on finding a job, offering advocacy and finding permanent housing.

Mr. Stiles said clients have one year to complete all of that.

“We wouldn’t be able to maintain the program,” he said. “This is a major issue for people with mental illness. To provide them a safe place to live, a job, advocacy work — that’s a major link this community didn’t have before the grant.”

About $50,000 will be spent in Franklin and Essex counties, while about $26,000 will be spent on funding for HUD’s Homeless Management Information System database, which aims to help agencies keep accurate records of homeless people.

An additional $482,000 in HUD funding to support new, related projects in those counties may be announced as early as May or June.

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