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Erie, Niagara counties unite against homelessness

People who find themselves homeless should find the path to safe housing somewhat smoother in Erie and Niagara counties, whether they have an emergency need or long-term problems.

After a two-year collaborative effort, more than 35 service providers and partners in the Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Erie and Niagara County Continuum of Care have approved a coordinated system to connect the homeless throughout the area with the best and most appropriate services.

Until now, an individual working with one agency could wind up on a wait list when space was available through another provider, or they could wind up in a placement that was not the right fit for their situations. Providers had different standards and applications, and they didn’t make it a habit to communicate with one another.

“Everyone sort of did their own thing,” said Dale Zuchlewski, executive director of the Homeless Alliance of WNY. “This way we can make sure people have equal access to services. We found some people weren’t being informed, and that other people really didn’t need any help to find their way out of the system. They may have just been in a temporary situation where they lost their housing, they may have been evicted, and a new place wasn’t ready yet.”

The impetus for the collaboration was external: The Department of Housing and Urban Development now requires communities to have a local coordinated system in order to receive federal assistance, which amounts to $11 million in HUD money annually in this area.

Zuchlewski said the new system will make it easier for providers to prioritize those who are most in need for rapid rehousing and also to focus on the chronically homeless.

“They are the hardest, and they are also the people most in need. We want to get them into a permanent housing situation, keep them from coming in and out of the system, in and out of jail,” Zuchlewski said.

Almost 200 permanent supportive housing units will be available in the coming year. HUD also designates funds to help veterans with housing and rent.

The Erie County Department of Social Services will continue to place people in emergency shelters while they wait to be assessed, and HUD is providing more than $1.5 million in rapid rehousing funds for families.

email: citydesk@buffnews.com