In a Thursday joint announcement, Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. and Utica Mayor Robert M. Palmieri announced a partnership with local non-profit organizations, to address homelessness, and other ongoing quality of life issues in areas of Utica, particularly in Oneida Square.
“Oneida County has been working diligently with many community partners to address the situation in Oneida Square for some time … The issues of mental health, substance abuse and homelessness that are having a negative impact on this area of the city must be dealt with using a multi-level approach,” Picente said in a statement.
“As we continue to deliver the crucial services needed to assist those affected, this new joint venture with the City of Utica will also improve the physical condition of the neighborhood itself and ultimately raise the quality of life for the residents, businesses and organizations located there,” Picente added.
As part of the measures taken, the County and City Departments of Public Works are joining forces with manpower and equipment to clean the Oneida Square area daily to protect the integrity of the neighborhood, and a series of temporary solutions have been enacted while a comprehensive plan to address homelessness, drug addiction and mental health is formed, according to plan information.
The City of Utica is allocating Emergency Solutions Grant funds from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development to the Salvation Army and Rescue Mission, through the Utica Municipal Housing Authority.
“This initiative will provide homeless individuals the ability to be off the streets throughout the day, especially as winter approaches, and receive vital programming and services in coordination with Oneida County Department of Social Services personnel. These services include mental health and drug rehabilitation, among others,” a release continues.
The city approved the temporary funding for this initiative until April 1, 2022. Until then, community partners will meet weekly to determine long term solutions. Between now and April, the county and city will continue to meet weekly, in conjunction with community partners, to develop a lasting action plan.
In addition to this announcement, county and city departments/personnel have taken proactive action to address quality of life issues at Oneida Square.
Specifically, Oneida County created the Oneida Square Mobile Engagement Team, a rapid response, multi-agency, multi-disciplined team to coordinate outreach and social service efforts.
In addition, the county has provided equipment to help clean the surrounding neighborhood. The County also allocated funding for the Morrow Warming Center, as well as emergency duty case workers and Integrated Community Alternatives Network outreach workers. To date, the county has invested over $350,000 to help address these issues.
To complement the County’s actions, the City of Utica implemented a new rapid-rehousing program hosted by Section 8, developed a Crisis Intervention Team within the Utica Police Department, funded a “green team” comprised of the homeless population to clean public spaces, increased DPW, city police and codes enforcement presence in impacted areas and invested in surveillance cameras throughout Oneida Square.
In addition, the city has organized street outreach and convened community partners to explore applicable solutions.
“We all agree the status quo is not acceptable … While we must show compassion for those in need, we must also protect the quality of life of the residents, businesses and organizations based in Oneida Square, and throughout our community,” Palmieri said in a statement, adding, “This announcement is a testament to the county and city commitment to working together, in coordination with all our community partners, to develop long-term solutions and achieve positive results on this important issue.”