Governments that fund social service agencies can force them to participate in efforts to prevent concentrating their clients in overburdened neighborhoods, an Erie County attorney said Tuesday.
Deputy County Attorney Alan P. Gerstman said a proposed oversight panel could provide a forum and clearing house to locate services in areas where clients live.
"We can exercise moral suasion," he said. "We generally cannot dictate. We can require people we give money to participate in a siting plan."
"Once the majority of a neighborhood (is) no longer residents, it does change the character," said Legislator Joan K. Bozer, D-Buffalo.
The session Tuesday before the County Legislature's Mental Health Committee followed complaints by organizations in Allentown and the Linwood Avenue area. They noted that 3,900 taxpayers in those neighborhoods are compelled to co-exist with hundreds of transients seeking food or counseling and with large numbers of addicts and mentally ill people funneled by agencies to group homes.
"There seem to be an awful lot of groups involved in getting money and building up administrations," said Ellen Burns of the North Pearl Block Club.
Mrs. Bozer said she was not aware of heavy concentrations on some streets until the block clubs pointed them out.
"I can't believe that the people who need these services all live on the West Side," said Legislator Crystal Peoples, D-Buffalo.
Residents' organizations in Allentown and the areas surrounding Elmwood and Linwood avenues say the West Side accommodates 64 programs at 60 locations, including a dozen soup kitchens and shelters for the homeless.
At the same time, the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority projects have hundreds of vacancies, a housing advocate said.
"As public housing has emptied, that population has moved into Allentown and is homeless," said Richard Kern, a member of the county Commission on Homelessness. "In this city, homelessness should not be a problem."
Kern, a longtime critic of the housing authority, estimated that the area receives $100 million in federal housing aid each year, with one-third of it spent in ways counterproductive to the interests of the city.
William W. Berry, who lives in the Richmond Avenue-Connecticut Street area, deplored what he called a "ban-the-bums" movement, saying, "If these people want an enclave, they can get one in East Amherst, East Aurora or Orchard Park."
Richard T. Lee, representing the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County, said his agency is cooperating with county, city and University at Buffalo officials in planning a computerized program to show agency locations within the county.
"We've never really taken a look at where the programs are," he said. Lee said that an oversight group could refer to the expected maps in trying to link services to areas of need.
Sharon West, deputy county commissioner of development and planning, suggested involving municipal planners in the oversight.
Mrs. Burns said that Allentown's acceptance of diversity has resulted in an inundation of agencies providing overlapping and sometimes identical services within close range.
"A siting committee has to have teeth," she said. "I'll be satisfied when I see some positive results for our neighborhood."