In recent weeks, the towns of Woodbury and Monroe have debated who’s responsible for assisting the unhoused in the local Walmart parking lot. The answer, according to Orange County tax map assessor Michael Breitenfeld, is that the town of Woodbury is responsible. This is because, according to the county tax map, the Walmart parking lot off Larkin Drive is “clearly Woodbury.”
The village of Monroe also brought up the issue of the unhoused using Airplane Park’s playground and Crane Park’s 9/11 Memorial as temporary shelter. They added that, when approached by Village of Monroe Police, some of the unhoused refused assistance. This meant there was nothing more the village could do for them. The Photo News spoke with Darcie M. Miller, the commissioner of Orange County’s Department of Social Service and the commissioner of the Orange County Department of Mental Health, to determine what assistance could be available to them.
What can be done?
There are few cases where, if an unhoused member of the community refuses assistance, nothing can be done about it. For example, as Commissioner Miller told The Photo News, “If a person is a danger to themselves or others (under NYS Code Blue legislation, danger to self includes exposure of self to weather 32 degrees or below) our Mobile Response Team can be sent to evaluate. The team can be reached by calling the Orange County Crisis Call Center at 311 or 1-800-832-1200. The police can also intervene and assess under the NYS Mental Hygiene Law. Both [of these options] could result in an involuntary transport to the hospital emergency room for further evaluation.” In the event that someone that’s unhoused is intoxicated — or otherwise under the influence — Garnet Health Medical Center, Montefiore St. Luke’s-Cornwall Hospital, and Bon Secours Hospital can offer them detox services.
Orange County also operates the After Hours Response Program through HONOR — the private not-for-profit and homeless shelter operator in Middletown — which can be reached at 845-343-7115. (HONOR can receive tax-deductible donations through its website HonorHelpingOthers.org/Donate.) This program offers all after-hours care and services to the unhoused, including nights, weekends, and holidays. The Department of Social Services, with HONOR, coordinates emergency housing placement. In an instance where the unhoused is a victim of domestic violence, the local municipality can contact FEARLESS! instead of HONOR. FEARLESS! can be reached at 845-562-5340. Trained advocates are available to help those fleeing domestic violence 24/7 through this service. (You can make a tax-deductible donation to FEARLESS! At FearlessHV.org/how-to-help/donate.html.)
A push to increase healthcare access
Of course, more permanent solutions to homelessness in our community include an increase in affordable housing, a universal basic income, and universal access to medical care. Studies have shown the efficacy of such programs in bringing people out of poverty. To that end, New York Senate Health Committee Chairman Gustavo Rivera has introduced legislation known as the NY Health Act. This act would provide universal healthcare coverage to all New York State residents. That would mean no more monthly health insurance premiums, co-pays, or having needed medical services denied for nebulous reasons by your insurance provider. The NY Health Act would save New Yorkers $11B a year, according to Rivera’s office, with employers paying 80% of the tax to fund the program.
Other funding would come from the state and through potential tax increases, those who can afford to carry the load. While that may sound bad, keep in mind that many New Yorkers currently pay between $600 and $1,200 a month on insurance premiums, not to mention pharmaceutical co-pays of $65 per drug (or more) for badly needed medicine like Eliquis. Those expenses would be eliminated under the NY Health Act.
The NY Health Act would also provide mental health and medical services to the unhoused population in our community; with medical expenses and related costs often serving as a barrier getting people off the street and into homes of their own. Rivera’s bill, which is currently in committee, can be found at the following website: bit.ly/40LFozG.