Outreach groups say Rochester is in ‘a homeless pandemic’ after tough year

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NEW YORK, NY – DECEMBER 04: A person in economic difficulty holds a homemade sign asking for money along a Manhattan street on December 4, 2013 in New York City. According to a recent study by the by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, New York City’s homeless population increased by 13 percent at the beginning of this year. Despite an improving local economy, as of last January an estimated 64,060 homeless people were in shelters and on the street in New York. Only Los Angeles had a larger percentage increase than New York for large cities. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The pandemic has had a big impact on Monroe County’s homeless population. 

Recovery All Ways (RAW) and Person Centered Housing Options (PCHO) have teamed up to help with outreach and housing options for those living on the streets.

Nicholas Coulter, the founder of PCHO, says the start of the pandemic was especially tough because they had to decrease the number of people in shelters and get them into private rooms. They partnered with social services to put individuals in hotel rooms. 

“A lot of folks on the streets were not able to wash their hands or keep hygiene, didn’t have masks, didn’t have any of those necessary items that you would need to maintain during COVID,” Coulter said. He said they would use grants to help provide PPE to the homeless community. 

Coulter said in 2019, they worked with about 200 people who were out on the streets. They had a 70-80% success rate finding them permanent housing. 

Since the pandemic, Coulter says he’s serving 50% more individuals, but it’s been harder to find housing. 

“Finding housing because of the moratorium and because of the housing stock was extremely difficult, so now we are down to places where it’s terribly difficult for people to maintain housing when they are poor and they are stuck with areas that might be high violence or high crime,” Coulter said. 

Stephanie Forrester, the Co-Founder of Recovery All Ways, works primarily with outreach. She helps connect with those without a home and sends Coulter’s way.

“People are scared. Even with the mandate being lifted, we have seen a lot of people out struggling. The drugs are obviously changing on the streets, they are more at-risk, and the homeless population has definitely, I would say doubled, since we started going back out again in January,” Forrester said. 

She said when people don’t have IDs, social securities, access to transportation or technology, it can be hard to reach them to provide them with help. 

“Rochester is definitely in a homeless pandemic. It’s getting worse,” Forrester said. 

RAW has been serving the community and doing clean up and outreach for about 4 years. Forrester says the demographic has been changing and they have seen younger and younger kids out on the streets homeless. The pandemic has been especially troubling for the population. 

“A lot of people didn’t realize how much of a problem their drinking or drug use may have been until they ended up having all this time on their hands and started dabbling more and realized wow, I am in trouble and I can’t stop this,” Forrester said. 

Coulter said he encourages people to reach out to PCHO if they see a homeless individual. 

“When you’re in your car, you see somebody on the side of the road, remember they are human beings and they are part of our lives and they are citizens of our community. They are not people we just discard,” Coulter said. 

Person Center Housing Options is looking for donations. To help, you can click here.

Recovery All Ways hosts community events every Saturday. Food, clothing and free Narcan training is provided. For more information or to volunteer, visit this link. 

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