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Community Weighs in on Rochester’s Sweeps of Homeless Encampments

In the Community

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Recent sweeps of local homeless encampments in the city of Rochester has residents, advoactes and community officials concerned for the safeety of those being impacted by the city’s sweeps.

Councilmember-At-Large, Kim Smith said that the “Loomis Street Homeless Encampment is a Symptom of Monroe County’s Absence of a Housing First Model.”

Smith recently provided a statement regarding encampment sweeps. Smith suggests the review of data pertaining to the Homeless Crisis in our Rochester area that can be seen at the SOH: State and CoC Dashboards – National Alliance to End Homelessness>, select ‘NY-500’.

Per the given data source, 2007-2020 homelessness increased by 33%. Within that 33%, the number of those unsheltered (living on the street) increased by 340%, according to Smith.

Smith says the system is the combination of policies, procedures, ideas, practices, etc. that work together to combat an issue. Given these current homeless statistics, over the course of 13 years (2007-2020), it is clear that homelessness is a systems issue that is not effectively being addressed.

Here is statements Smith made regarding encampment sweeps:

Currently, many if not all organizations in Monroe County receiving money to combat homelessness are a part of the ‘Partners Ending Homelessness’ collaborative, and follow a process:

  1. Outreach to the those living homeless
    1. Make a Referral for Housing
    2. Entry into a Coordinated system where people are prioritized

The problem with this system is one must be referral eligible (meaning they have been homeless for 12 months, no active addictions, etc.) before they are referred for housing. Monroe County does not have a Housing First Model. The ‘Partners Ending Homelessness’ are currently calling for the Monroe County Legislature to vote and release ARPA dollars to fund their initiatives. However, without a Housing First Model, those initiatives will not meet the needs of our homeless community. Call To Action: Monroe County Legislators must pass Housing First Legislation

“Regardless of how many fences are built, the problem of homeless encampments will continue to persist if we don’t put housing first,” said Smith.

“Build a fence or re-build this ineffective system.”

Citizen Action of New York and VOCAL-NY also weighed in on recent homeless encampment sweeps.

“Everyone deserves a safe place to live,”the organizations say. They condemn the targeted harassment of unhoused residents of Rochester–including the sweeps of homeless encampments on Loomis Street–by the city government.

The following is a statement from Citizen Action of New York and VOCAL-NY regarding recent sweeps of Loomis Street and others:
“Together with local advocates, we call upon Mayor Malik Evans and City Council to stop the continued attacks on our unhoused population and work with the community to find sustainable solutions that don’t continue the cycle of harm.

No one should be harassed and made to feel unsafe in their own space. Unhoused people do not have any form of protection against sudden and violent eviction and the seizure of their property. Forced ‘sweeps’ of encampments threaten their survival and put people at unnecessary risk, without reducing homelessness or addressing the problems that cause it.

The use of Rochester’s police force to harass and criminalize unhoused residents and the people attempting to support them, is unconscionable. This is a misuse of city resources and it creates severe and unnecessary collateral consequences. Unhoused residents are being scapegoated for deeper problems that police are unable to address.

City shelters are an important lifeline for many people experiencing homelessness, but these shelters are not a suitable place for every unhoused person. Many shelters are filled with violence that puts residents at risk and some have requirements–like abandoning pets–that people cannot comply with. Furthermore, there is a shortage of available beds in the currently available shelters.

Rochester is the fourth poorest city in the United States and many residents are struggling to make rent. A severe lack of low-cost housing and legal protections for tenants in existing housing causes many people to be homeless or housing insecure.

The City of Rochester has shown once again that property matters more than people. Citizen Action and VOCAL-NY are united in solidarity with unhoused residents and advocates, as we call upon Mayor Malik Evans and Rochester City Council to put an end to the sweeps and work with the community to find sustainable solutions that don’t continue the cycle of harm. Housing is a human right, and unhoused people have a right to be safe and keep the property they have to shelter themselves.”