Rise Up Kingston held a press conference outside of Ulster County Department of Social Services (DSS) on Thursday morning February 14th, 2019 to demand they live up to their mission: to “adequately and efficiently assess, plan for and provide appropriate services to families and individuals in need.” After a short phone call about our concerns with Mike Iapoce, Commissioner of DSS, members of Rise Up Kingston attempted to schedule a meeting to discuss further, but were not granted one.
Members of our community are living in unsafe environments, being relocated out of school district lines, forced to move frequently, living with rodents, bugs, and other environmental hazards, and don’t have access to prepare healthy meals for their families. DSS is allowing this to continue, and paying hotels & motels to place our neighbors in unsuitable conditions.
“My son is disabled, and has been staying at the America’s Best Motel for 6 months. The motel management has refused to fix the heat, and I had to buy him an electric heater” said Lisa Royer, Rise Up Kingston Outreach Organizer. “The heater has tripped the fuse, leaving my son with no electricity, and the motel owner refused to turn it back on. The Family of Woodstock emergency line recommended we call 911 and then it was turned on. We shouldn’t have to beg for heat in a building paid for by our county agency.”
“DSS has placed me in several hotels & motels over the past year I’ve been homeless” said Yolanda Knox, Rise Up Kingston Member “I lived in a motel that no one should have to live in- with sewage backing up into my tub regularly, and nothing to cook with except for a microwave. DSS needs to use their power to demand that housing for people experiencing homelessness meets a quality standard of living.”
The Department of Social Services is placing people experiencing homelessness in the warming center. This is not a suitable housing placement, forcing people to carry all their belongings during the day, and in some cases threatening parole requirements.
“When I first got home from jail, I went to DSS to help me find a place to live. DSS tried to place me in the warming center” said Dorothea Parker, Rise Up Kingston Member “The warming center hours would have forced me to violate my parole, and I had to fight to get another placement. DSS should be working to help me better myself, not setting me up for failure.”
The DSS Recertification Process is further penalizing & criminalizing those who are struggling with homelessness, requiring them to visit the DSS office every two weeks. Many people are forced to wait for 3 or more hours every two weeks to verify they have been looking for a place to live. This forces them to travel long distances, impacts their ability to work in or outside of the home, and each visit could present them with notice that they have to move.
People are struggling to find affordable housing due to high rents. Discrimination in the housing process is another major factor, and with no laws limiting income-source discrimination, those who receive State Benefits are further limited in their housing options.
Rise Up Kingston is demanding that The Department of Social Services shift to respond to this state of crisis, and make changes to the DSS Recertification Process that will support, not hinder those who are experiencing housing insecurity & homelessness, and take a better role in advocating for Housing Placements that meet a standard of living: without Bug & Rodent Infestation, working heat & electric, and access to prepare a healthy meal.