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Utica, Hamilton College seek answer to spike in homelessness

Posted 2/17/23

Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri, along with members of Hamilton College’s Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center.

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Utica, Hamilton College seek answer to spike in homelessness


UTICA — Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri, along with members of Hamilton College’s Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center, announced the completion of a study that examined the scope of and potential solutions to the increase in homelessness the city has experienced in recent years.

With the new information, the city is calling on its public and non-profit partners to use evidence-based practices to address the area’s unhoused populations.

The study was headed by Gwendolyn Dordick, a professor at the City College of New York whose work addresses people experiencing chronic homelessness. It was commissioned in a partnership between the city’s Section 8 department and the Levitt Center. Hamilton students Bram Mansbach and Peter Elias Huleatt contributed as well.

“The Levitt Center for Public Affairs at Hamilton College has developed a constructive relationship with Mayor Palmieri’s administration related to a number of policy issues,” said Frank Anechiarico, director of The Levitt Center. “The Center’s partnership with Utica on a study of homelessness in Utica is the latest product of our work together. The excellent work on the report released today, conducted by Prof. Gwen Dordick along with Hamilton students Bram Mansbach and Peter Huleatt, improves our understanding of a serious social problem and moves us closer to a solution. The Levitt Center is grateful to the Mayor, Mr. Marques Phillips and Ms. Krystal Curley for working with us on this research”

Palmieri reached out to the Levitt Center in hopes of gaining an understanding of root causes to rising unhoused populations in Utica, particularly in the area of Oneida Square.

The study found that the counted unhoused population has grown by 70% in Oneida and Madison counties. It also found that better communication and data collection methods are needed throughout the area.

It also recommends the following steps:

The area should strive to adopt the practices of Build for Zero, a national effort to combat homelessness. These practices include identifying homeless individuals by name and addressing their specific needs.

Consider adopting a low-barrier 24/7 Navigation Center pilot program in cooperation with partner agencies and governments. This center would adopt a flexible approach to services to help individuals who would otherwise face barriers to coming indoors.

Support service providers that have built trust with difficult to reach populations.

Create community forums to educate and listen to residents on a more regular basis in regards to issues surrounding homelessness.

Explore setting up a landlord office to involve landlords in coming up with potential solutions to house these populations.

The study emphasizes the need for harm reduction and Housing First policies to address the needs of the unhoused.

In addition to the study, the Mayor has taken a series of unprecedent steps to deal with the influx of unhoused individuals. Some of those steps include:

  • Utica has spent more than $6 million that will bring more than 250 affordable housing units online in the next two years.
  • The Utica Police Department has formed a Crisis Intervention Team to better address persons in crisis by using a licensed social worker along with a police officer.
  • In 2021, Utica established the Emergency Housing Voucher Program, a rental subsidy program with a mission to decrease homelessness and assist the chronically unhoused in obtaining decent, safe and sanitary housing.
  • In 2022, Utica implemented its first annual Landlord Engagement Event. The event highlighted financial incentives and subsidy programs for landlords willing to lease to at-risk homeless populations.
  • Utica has funded warming centers at both the Salvation Army and Rescue Mission of Utica to give individuals that are unhoused a warm place to stay.
  • Utica has hosted more than a dozen meetings with local service providers to try and more efficiently address homelessness and bolster street outreach.

With results in hand, city officials will continue to work with the Levitt Center, non-profits, governments, and other partners to implement some of the ideas presented. “It’s time that we are proactive in creating the partnerships and taking actions to try to address homelessness as a community,” Palmieri said. “It’s all of our problem and we need to work together to find solutions. Unfortunately, the old system isn’t working and we need to find ways to improve.”

I’d like to thank Hamilton College, Prof. Dordick and all of the partners that have worked on this issue with us.”


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