The City of Cortland Police Department and the Cortland County Department of Social Services (DSS) officials say some of the unhoused individuals who are in encampments have been found by police in the last month.
“We have found a couple dozen encampments,” City police chief Paul Sandy said of the recent discovery. “Some are old, some are new. I cannot tell you how many people are labeled as homeless, but seem to deal with about a dozen that are continually getting our attention.”
Sandy said the department typically tries to “locate” and “engage” unhoused individuals.
“We try to see what kind of assistance they may be in need of,” he said. “Some may need mental health assistance, some deal with (substance use) disorder, so we try to hook them up with services. I will tell you the vast majority refuse any help, refuse to go to counseling — whether it is mental health or drug related.”
DSS is one of the organizations working with city police.
“We, as the local department of social services, administer public assistance programs that provide housing to homeless folks who choose to apply and comply with our state-governed programs,” said DSS Commissioner Kristen Monroe. “Many people come to our department seeking assistance, and we assist them if they apply and are eligible for emergency housing. This is a process governed by the state.”
Monroe noted DSS has made attempts to find individuals living in encampments.
“Our casework team has not actually found the individuals living along the river during these past attempts despite seeing signs of encampments,” she said. “Law enforcement agencies are aware to refer and transport people to our department when they find them. However, individuals must want to access our services and be willing to comply with certain activities, including addressing untreated substance (use disorder) and mental health needs that impact their ability to maintain housing provided.”
Sandy also spoke on the status of some of the individuals the department has tried to help.
“Most of these people we are dealing with have a very bad track record with DSS and the locations that can house them because of past behavior,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of places that will offer them an opportunity to come stay.”
Sandy noted some people are reluctant to seek help due to the elaborate process.
“One response is ‘there are too many rules’ to get help,” he said. “Some don’t think they need any help. Some are supposed to be on medication, but they don’t like how it makes them feel.”
City police, Sandy said, are actively seeking ideas from other communities.
“We are working proactively to get these individuals the assistance and we are communicating with other communities to see how they are dealing with this situation in their communities,” he said. “We are always looking for options on how to deal with this situation.”