By Miranda Reale
POUGHKEEPSIE – Facing debate from both sides of the aisle, the City of Poughkeepsie Common Council addressed the projected site for a homeless shelter on 26 Oakley Street at a community forum last Wednesday.
Residents’ input repeatedly circled back to the question: What is the point in having this meeting now? When a decision is set to be made this week, many community members expressed frustration at members of the Common Council due to the lack of transparency involved in the decision. The majority of Poughkeepsie residents were blind sided, but so was the Common Council.
When Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro announced that the County was nearing the purchase of property at 26 Oakley Street in the City of Poughkeepsie in April, council members were not part of the decision and warranted a letter to the county legislator from common council. “We write this evening to ask that any intended action by this committee be delayed to permit the Common Council and the public to obtain and review information as to the county’s plans,” the letter stated, leading to the forum last Wednesday. City Common Council member Yvonne Flowers explained that “we have been trying to delay this so we can find more community input, look at alternative sights, but it seems we are going against a timeline that is steamrolling,” she said.
The facility at 26 Oakley is planned to replace the current temporary housing units (PODS) on the Dutchess County Jail campus, which have been used as an emergency shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic, and plans to not only provide beds but case workers and assistance for its residents to help transition out of homelessness. Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro said funding for the project will come from the county’s federal American Rescue Plan Act allocation. “It invests in people,” he said in a statement last month.
Although city officials and Poughkeepsie residents recognize the homeless population must be given proper aid and shelter, the county’s plan has encountered resistance.
At the forum, more than twenty public comments sought answers. “Why is it always Poughkeepsie? Why is it always here? There are a lot of other municipalities in Dutchess County,” one resident living on Mill Street asked. “That model could be placed anywhere in Dutchess County,” she continued.
Though the City only represents approximately one-tenth of the County’s affordable housing, Poughkeepsie already accounts for about two-thirds of the County’s affordable housing. The Legislature is scheduled to vote this week to authorize the use of those federal funds, and despite the community’s delayed notice of the project, they intend to fight the project until all options are exhausted.
Another City resident, Antionette Marie, is in the process of opening a charter school close to the proposed facility. “We cannot utilize Poughkeepsie as the dumping ground for the most vulnerable population that exists in our county. People who are experiencing economic trouble, people who are experiencing mental illness, people who are experiencing houselessness– all of these issues are symptoms of root causes that need to be addressed. And, it is much easier for people who are in positions of power who go home and don’t have these problems living at their doorstep, to not feel this emotional connection,” she said.
After more than an hour of collecting public testimony, it was clear that the overall tone of the night was rooted in frustration. At which point, City Common Council member Yvonne Flowers addressed the room. “I know this can seem discouraging, when you feel like no matter what you do it’s not going to work; but what we are trying to do is to push this back some,” she said. The next step for the Common Council is to interrupt the process by acquiring outside counsel to block any further development. “We know that even if this does go through, that there are additional steps and services to take. We need to make sure that the businesses around the area do not flee. If they leave, that takes away resources from our kids. So we are asking, give us a fair chance at the table and have those discussions about what happens if this fails. Because Marc Molinaro will leave, the major will move onto something else– But we still live here,” she continued. “Even though you might think this is a lost cause, please stand up and tell them how you feel, because they need to hear it and they need to feel it.”