Serino Outlines New Plan for Addressing Homelessness with $13 Million New York State Grant

Serino Outlines New Plan for Addressing Homelessness
with $13 Million New York State Grant

Poughkeepsie, NY… Dutchess County Executive Sue Serino announced today that Dutchess County will use a $13 million grant award from New York State to propel the County forward in implementing a brand-new model for addressing homelessness by helping people overcome the barriers that have caused them to become homeless and transitioning them into permanent housing.  

Last month, the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) awarded a $13,023,795 Homeless Housing and Assistance Program (HHAP) grant to Dutchess County to fund the capital costs associated with retrofitting the 26 Oakley Street property in the City of Poughkeepsie. This new facility will provide critical temporary housing with supportive services in one location and will enable the County to close the existing PODS, which have served as emergency housing shelter since the start of the COVID pandemic in 2020.

“We are honored by New York State’s embrace of Dutchess County’s new model to address homelessness – it is a thoughtful, evidence-based plan that will completely change how we address homelessness in Dutchess County and make a true difference in the lives of so many who are struggling. $13 million is a transformational amount of money that allows us the opportunity to truly give people a leg up in changing their lives,” said County Executive Serino.

Plans to open a new emergency housing facility to replace the temporary PODS structures at the former Dutchess County Jail have spanned multiple administrations over the past few years. Since taking office in January 2024, County Executive Serino has met with City of Poughkeepsie Mayor Yvonne Flowers, state officials, City of Poughkeepsie representatives, housing advocates and many others to discuss the County’s next steps in addressing the ongoing challenge of helping those who are facing the crisis of homelessness.  

In a meeting this week with Mayor Flowers, 5th Ward Council Member Ondie James, Stakeholder Committee Chair Jamar Cummings, Dutchess County Legislature Chairman Will Truitt and other County officials, County Executive Serino outlined the decision to accept the grant funding and reviewed various steps of her new plan for addressing homelessness.

The $13 million HHAP award is one of the largest HHAP grant awards made since the program’s inception in 2021 and reflects the State’s strong endorsement of Dutchess County’s efforts to help people achieve independent living in permanent housing. In meetings facilitated by the Governor’s office, County Executive Serino and other officials discussed options for the grant funding with OTDA. The grant award remains location specific to the Oakley Street facility. A different location, if one could be successfully identified, would require a revised grant submission.  In addition to significantly delaying any possible project and further exacerbating the homelessness situation, state officials have advised the County that grant resubmissions have rarely been successful. 

“We are quickly running out of time at the PODS – they are not in good condition as they were never designed for long-term use, and we are not able to truly help people who stay there. With this HHAP funding, we have a real opportunity to change lives with our new model and we can’t let it slip through our fingers. While there may not be agreement on all of the decisions made by past administrations over the last two years, I am confident that working together with the City of the Poughkeepsie, listening and engaging with the local community, we can establish a solid plan that will create something we can all be proud of,” said Serino.

County Executive Serino’s plan focuses on the Oakley Street facility as valuable transitional housing – supportive, but temporary accommodation designed to bridge the gap from homelessness to permanent housing, with structure, supervision, support services, life skills, education and training. There are currently limited transitional housing options in Dutchess County, which results in too many people “stuck” in emergency housing for long periods of time because they are not yet ready or able to maintain permanent housing.

Unlike the existing PODS, Oakley Street will be an OTDA-certified facility, with every individual going through an intake process prior to admission. Individuals must be willing to actively engage in a case management process that will include an assessment to identify specific needs, such as mental health and substance use treatment, job training and education and other supportive services that will be available on-site – with the ultimate goal of creating an independent living plan, leading to permanent housing.

The new facility’s operational model, with defined rules, is intended to help people create real change in their lives to attain independence. Those who agree to the structured environment and engage in the programs will have a safe, supportive environment with the services they need to address the issues that led to or have kept them homeless.   

Emergency Shelter, Affordable Permanent Supportive Housing – Going Beyond Oakley Street

To enable Oakley Street to be focused on temporary transitional housing, the County is working to have “scattered site” emergency overnight warming centers in locations throughout Dutchess, as suggested in multiple community and legislative meetings. The County will work with multiple community partner agencies, including Community Housing Innovations (CHI), Catholic Charities, Hudson River Housing and others, to establish sites that can accommodate 15 to 40 people in northern and southern Dutchess County to provide emergency overnight shelter during the “Code Blue” cold weather season.

Additionally, recognizing that lack of affordable permanent housing drives up demand for emergency housing, the County is working to increase permanent supportive housing options. County Executive Serino is working with New York State to explore possible opportunities at the former Hudson River Psychiatric Center property (including the former Cleveland House and vacant houses on the property). 

The County will also issue a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) later this year to identify developers who may be interested in developing projects for affordable permanent supportive housing anywhere in Dutchess County. Such projects could be supported, in part, with funding from the County’s Housing Trust Fund.

Starting Critical Case Management, Phased Closure of the PODS, Oakley facility Timeline

Next steps will be the issuance of a Request for Proposals (RFP) for architectural design and construction management services for the renovations to the Oakley Street property. Schematic design work was completed in 2022, which identified an estimated construction cost of $12 million. This estimate exceeded the County’s resources and led to the prior administration’s pursuit of the HHAP funding. With schematic design already complete, the design process is expected to move quickly, with construction estimated to begin in May 2025. The 100-bed facility is expected to be open by fall 2026.

While design work and construction is underway, the County will work on a phased closure of the PODS over the next 12 to 18 months, gradually closing each of the four units that make up the PODS, with a multi-faceted efforts to reduce the overall population prior to the opening of the Oakley center. 

To transition people out of the PODS, supportive case management will begin in the coming month under the direction of the County’s new shelter director, Howard Charton. Dutchess County Community & Family Services is working to set up temporary office space in the now vacant 1995 section of the former Dutchess County Jail. Case managers will work with guests to assess their needs and develop individualized independent living plans – which may include helping them to connect with services in their home community if they are from areas outside of Dutchess County. Mr. Charton, who began as shelter director in December, and his team have already been successful in helping several people transition out of the PODS.

The County is also working with community partners for supportive housing options that can be alternatives to the PODS, such as building on the successful Oxford Houses model for recovery homes. It also includes support for Hudson River Housing’s newly opened “Pat’s Place” housing for young adults ages 18 through 25, who may be at risk for homelessness, including those who are transitioning out of the foster care system.

Working with the Community to provide safe, successful outcomes

“We recognize there are many in our community who have concerns and questions about the Oakley Street project and we look forward to continuing to work with both City of Poughkeepsie officials as well as members of the local community to craft a solid plan to move us all forward. By listening to one another and keeping an open mind, we can address concerns and work together on creative solutions that achieve positive results,” said Serino.  

The safety and security of the facility, and the surrounding community, is a paramount concern. The facility will have on-site private security, and the Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office will partner with the City of Poughkeepsie Police Department for additional zone coverage in the surrounding community.

Ongoing community engagement and continued conversations will be vital for the project to be successful and with a projected late 2026 completion, there is a lot of time to work through issues.

“We want people to know what we are doing, and how we are addressing their concerns, so there are no misconceptions or fears. We appreciate the work the Stakeholder Committee has done to-date to engage the community and build trust. We look forward to continuing to work with the committee, even if it means going door-to-door to provide outreach and information,” Serino said.

County Executive Serino and other County officials will attend the next Stakeholder Committee meeting to discuss the County Executive’s new plan on Tuesday, May 28th in the Legislature Chambers.

Author: Harlem Valley News