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Massena Independent Living Center receives funding for homelessness

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MASSENA — The Massena Independent Living Center has received nearly $194,000 from the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance to help combat homelessness in the community.

The Solutions to End Homelessness Program funding was announced by OTDA officials Friday. They said more than $15.7 million was awarded to 67 organizations across the state to help prevent homelessness and help those in crisis find stable housing.

Altogether, the Massena Independent Living Center received $193,748. Other north country awards were $298,952 to Jefferson County Department of Social Services, $259,436 to ETC Housing Corp. in Clinton County and $130,837 to Snow Belt Housing Company Inc. in Lewis County.

The four funding awards are for the renewal of existing projects.

Jeffrey A. Reifensnyder, executive director of the Massena Independent Living Center, said that just because residents can’t see homeless people, it doesn’t mean they’re not there.

“We’ve actually been working on homeless prevention for three years now. (The funding) is all directed at addressing what seems to be a unique rural flavor to homelessness,” he said.

“We were never aware until we actually got involved in this. It’s not in your face in rural areas like it is in urban areas. You can drive through Syracuse, Albany, Buffalo, down in urban areas and see it. You see it in a different way than you see it here,” Mr. Reifensnyder said.

Instead, the homeless in Massena might be found living in tents, cars or on a friend’s kitchen floor, he said.

“I think this has been a situation where the availability of this funding brought this out of the woodwork,” he said.

This is the second year the Massena Independent Living Center has received the funding, according to Mr. Reifensnyder. He said the center has been able to put about $600,000 back into the community with programming the last time.

“We’ve been very successful in our implementation of this program funding,” he said.

Mr. Reifensnyder said the Massena Independent Living Center got involved in the effort after it was approached by the county’s commissioner of social services, who asked if the center’s staff would be interested in helping out.

“Any grants today, they’re short on administrative overhead. Anything you take on, you realize it’s going to be bare bones or cost you money,” he said.

Still, the center decided there was enough of a need in the community to move forward with the effort.

“When we first got approached with this for our interest, I said, ‘We’re a disability rights organization. That’s always been our main focus.’ I remember the conversation with the commissioner. Our initial feeling was homelessness really isn’t our issue, except it is,” Mr. Reifensnyder said.

He said unemployment rates among people with disabilities is high.

“We’re not just talking physical disabilities. We’re talking mental health issues and traumatic brain issues,” he said. “It absolutely is an issue of interest to the Independent Living Center.”

“It’s been about three years that we’ve been implementing projects targeting the prevention of homelessness. The big piece is rapid rehousing for people who are homeless now. We’ve been very active with the landlord’s association and the utility companies,” Mr. Reifensnyder said.

The program also has collaborated with the “hard-working heroes of the north country,” organizations such as St. Vincent de Paul, the Massena Neighborhood Center, Salvation Army and local churches, he said.

“Many people from various organizations have a role to play. They’ve been very helpful,” he said.

The goal of STEHP is to help individuals and families remain in or obtain permanent housing, assist them with supportive services during their experience of homelessness or the eviction process and assist in achieving housing stabilization.

The range of activities funded under the STEHP awards includes: maintaining and improving the quality of emergency and transitional shelters and drop-in centers for homeless individuals and families; assisting in meeting the costs of operating such programs; providing comprehensive supportive services aimed at housing stabilization; providing rapid re-housing services and providing eviction-prevention assistance to individuals and families.

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