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The truth about homelessness in Suffolk

To the editor:

This year, due to COVID-19 and CDC requirements that individuals should not be in a congregate shelter, there was government funding available to provide individual shelter for the homeless for a limited period of time. The Planning Council secured these funds for Suffolk and the surrounding areas and housed them in hotels. This was restricted to literally homeless that would otherwise be on the street.

For the 2020-21 sheltering season, The Planning Council served 57 guests from Nov. 16, 2020, to June 30, 2021, in the COVID-19 Hotel Program. Out of these 57 guests, 13 were over the age of 55 (including three veterans). Almost half had regular monthly income. About 57% reported they had been homeless for more than six months and one-third for more than a year. Suffolk had over 1,100 different people call the Housing Crisis Hotline, with nearly 1,000 looking for shelter.

This year, we had more people with chronic health conditions, mental health issues, victims of domestic violence, elderly and disabled. Some were unable to stay in a congregate setting due chronic debilitating health problems or mental health issues. Each of these guests was literally homeless, meaning they were sleeping outside or in their vehicles. There were several, that while on the phone, their teeth were literally chattering because they were so cold, and some had not eaten in days.

Several of our guests were eligible for disability, but with no address, it was hard for them to take the steps to apply, and these were completed while staying in our shelter. Several got jobs as quickly as the first week because they were able to shower, have clean clothes and provide an address.

Unfortunately, the stay on evictions has caused landlords to require more from people moving in, such as stricter credit and background checks, and some require up to three months’ advance payment. This is simply not possible for most of our guests or those already struggling financially. It has also caused less turnover for affordable housing, because people aren’t moving out. Many of our guests have income from Social Security or jobs, but cannot find affordable housing.

Thank you to The Planning Council for securing funding and administering the program to the Suffolk homeless population; to the Brentwood Inn owners, Prushat Patel and his family, for being so supportive and for always going above and beyond. They were truly team partners through this and were extremely accommodating; to the city of Suffolk for granting three weeks of additional funding which bridged a gap between the federal funding; to Obici Healthcare Foundation for additional funding; to CAPS and each of the participating churches for organizing, preparing and delivering meals daily to our guests for much of the season; to the Suffolk Police Department and Suffolk Fire & Rescue for their support; but most of all, thanks be to God for His constant faithfulness and for proving that when one door closes, another one opens!

Cheryl Griffin

Suffolk Winter Shelter Coordinator

The Planning Council