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Syracuse learning more about its homeless population

Syracuse city officials are trying to learn more about their city’s homeless population. The city council held a hearing on the issue Wednesday evening.

One night this week, 527 people slept in a handful of homeless shelters – or in overflow hotel rooms – in the city of Syracuse. Charities that work with the homeless estimate another two dozen chose to sleep outside.

The city is on track to have one of its highest homeless populations in years.

The impact and plight of the city’s homeless population has come to attention in recent weeks after a downtown business owner complained to city hall.

There were several questions from lawmakers about working with mentally ill homeless people. Many repeatedly drop out of services or are frequently arrested.

"We can refer people to places," Jim Taylor, a member of a homeless coalition told councilors. "If they’re not comfortable going there, a worker can take them, they can drop them off, they can walk them in. That doesn’t mean they’re going to avail themselves to the services or continue to use the services."

Taylor says getting mentally ill people in stable housing can allow mental health aides to make repeated visits.

"But then a worker has a chance, over the long term, to develop a relationship and gradually get them into treatment and see what those issues are, functionally, that prevent them from living on their own. And help them see that there’s things they can do themselves and the reward for them is they feel better about living on their own," he said.

Police say more than 200 homeless people are arrested every year, some multiple times. There are no laws in Syracuse against panhandling, or asking for money. But experts recommend not giving money to panhandlers.