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City of Buffalo announces more funding for pandemic-related homeless efforts

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

A second round of money from a federal Emergency Solutions Grant will go toward several agencies in the City of Buffalo which advocate for the homeless, assist with rapid rehousing and work to prevent at-risk people from losing homes amid the COVID pandemic, Mayor Byron Brown announced Friday.

Advocates for the homeless say the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis it has cause further threaten the stability of many Buffalo residents who are struggling to keep up with rent or mortgage payments.

The state and federal governments, during the peak of New York's outbreak, offered temporary suspensions of evictions among its safety measures. Mayor Brown, standing outside the Lincoln Community Center on Quincy Street, said the help that has been provided so far is not enough.

"A growing number of residents are facing the dual stress of employment and housing insecurity," Brown said. "While the $7.1 million the city has allocated from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, in combination with the supplemental unemployment insurance and eviction moratoriums, has helped stem the worst of the new housing crisis, those added protections will unfortunately end at some time."

The Lincoln Community Center was recently converted into a homeless shelter. Dale Zuchlewski of the Homeless Alliance of Western New York described the city's outreach to agencies as a "best practice model" for the nation, but agreed that more support must be made available. He, and others, are looking upon the federal government, where a $3 trillion relief bill remains stalled.

"Homelessness is a racial equity issue. More minorities are homeless, more minorities have contracted COVID," Zuchlewski said. "Housing stability is key. There's a racial equity issue. And there's a social determinant of health. If you don't have stable housing, you're not worried about your health needs. You're not worried about social distancing. You're not worried about how sad it is. You're worried about where you're going to sleep tonight and where can I get my next meal. So housing stability is key."

Mayor Brown stated that of the nearly 1,270 homeless persons served in the City of Buffalo, about 46 percent of them are Black, while nearly a quarter of people served are age 25 or younger, and almost one in ten homeless cases are families.

Some advocates suggest the city will need closer to $15 million to adequately address housing instability and the threat of homelessness.

Mayor Brown announced that the city will present a new plan next week for more federal funding for further protection from evictions during the pandemic.

Jean Bennett, who chairs the Western New York Coalition for the Homeless, recalled wrapping up a season of Code Blue, the action strategy to get homeless persons off the street in dangerously cold weather, and heading into the COV ID-19 pandemic. She noted while the broader public was told to stay home in order to stay safe, that wasn't so easy for people who didn't have a home. She also recalled the struggle to keep the people they served safe under the circumstances.

She and her peers anticipate the inability of many to make rent payments for several months during the public health crisis will increase the need for assistance.

"We are aggressively preparing for the high level of need, expected as people continue to struggle with housing instability," she said. "Our work continues. We are New York tough, we're Buffalo strong, we've got this together, and only together we will overcome this crisis."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.