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Tompkins County Exploring Solutions to Unsheltered Homelessness, Including Development of New Shelter Beds

Tompkins County is exploring options to increase the number of emergency shelter beds available to individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness. The exploration includes how the development of County-owned shelter beds might be funded and operate in accordance with the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) and existing County services including Temporary Assistance and Code Blue. 

Any new shelter space in Tompkins County would complement the existing shelter operated by St. John’s Community Services through an existing contract with the County’s Department of Social Services funded through the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA). Currently, Tompkins County contracts for the existing shelter to provide emergency housing and support for Temporary Assistance clients. 

The Tompkins County Continuum of Care recently estimated that around 60 individuals experience unsheltered homelessness during the warmer months of May-September. The existing shelter facility has a 26-bed capacity, though congregate shelter sites are also used when more individuals need shelter, including during cold weather months when Tompkins County provides shelter to anyone who needs it through the New York State Code Blue policy. 

County staff are examining how a newly developed shelter facility might operate in Tompkins County, including the option of a low-barrier shelter which would be open for anyone experiencing homelessness, including during cold weather months. County staff are considering elements of a potential facility, the needs of the population experiencing unsheltered homelessness, relevant state and federal regulations, and potential funding sources. As the exploration moves forward, Tompkins County may seek outside expertise and will continue to engage with the Continuum of Care and other local organizations serving people experiencing homelessness.

Tompkins County Administrator Lisa Holmes stated, “The development of a new shelter facility is an important opportunity for Tompkins County, our goal is to position anything that we develop as a sustainable community asset.” Holmes continued, “Unsheltered homelessness is one of the biggest challenges facing our community, I hope that we can come to a shared vision as a County and community that decreasing the number of people experiencing homelessness while increasing access to services, economic and community-based opportunities are well worth our efforts.”

Chairwoman of the Tompkins County Legislature Shawna Black stated, “Tompkins County is working toward further prioritizing reducing homelessness in our community. No one should have to sleep outside or be unable to access shelter when they need it. Any shelter developed by the County would include compassionate, community-based services to help people find their footing and achieve stability - everything from obtaining appropriate medical care for chronic conditions to job placement.” Black continued, “Tompkins County doesn’t know yet what the final product of this exploration will look like, but I’m proud of the progress we’re making, and I feel confident that what we’ve learned over the past few years is pointing toward increasing and sustaining the number of accessible shelter beds in our community.”

Legislator Greg Mezey, who chairs the Housing and Economic Development Committee stated, “The County can and should do as much as we can to reduce the number of people sleeping outside, in addition to supporting and encouraging housing options at all income levels, including supportive housing.” Mezey added, “Offering shelter beds is a complex system at the local and state levels, I’m grateful to our staff for navigating that system and working toward solutions that are sustainable and meet our needs.”