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Homeless shelters in Syracuse working with Onondaga County to reduce numbers

Tom Magnarelli
A bridge in downtown Syracuse highlighting the Mission District where the Rescue Mission will open their expansion.

About 370 adults and children are currently staying in emergency shelters in Syracuse. Syracuse is focused on poverty now more than ever in light of a recent report which rates the city as having the highest concentration of poverty for blacks and Hispanics in the nation.

About 100 people are staying at the Rescue Mission in downtown Syracuse, which is planning on opening an expansion in October. The $7.2 million renovation on the Rescue Mission’s campus is the largest project they have undertaken and will increase their capacity to 183 beds. The new emergency shelter and day center will give people access to case managers, psychiatric referrals and employment and education support without having to leave the building.

The number of people staying at homeless shelters is down this summer, which surprised Alan Thornton, the CEO of the Rescue Mission Alliance of Syracuse. But Thornton said for the past few years, they have gotten better at analyzing the data of who is staying at the shelter and for how long, which helps them target who to help find housing.  

“It is a coordinated effort," Thornton said. "There’s been more involvement on the street outreach side of things. They’re talking about individuals that are still out on the street and knowing them by name and then trying to understand more their story and figuring out how to we remove those barriers and get them into housing.”

The Housing and Homeless Coalition, the Onondaga County Department of Social Services and various shelters are using a countywide coordination system to monitor individuals with the longest stays, some for years, and make them a priority for housing. Emergency shelters typically want people to stay for a maximum of 45 days.

Thornton said as the weather gets colder, it is likely they will see the number of people using their shelters increase. Thornton said about 30 people in Onondaga County are currently out on the street.

About 74 people in Onondaga and Oswego counties between the ages of 18-24 are staying in emergency homeless shelters, according to a 2015 report from the Housing and Homeless Coalition of Syracuse and Onondaga county. Thornton said some of those young people are homeless because they aged out of foster care.

"Customize your case management for those individuals so you can intervene earlier in their life and hopefully stop this from becoming a cycle for the next 10-20 years of their life," Thornton said.

The Rescue Mission’s new center will open on October 13.