Featured photograph: Portion of Ithaca Rescue Mission facade at 618 W. State/MLK Jr. St.. Josh Brokaw/TruthSayers
By Josh Brokaw
Tompkins County needs to find a new agency by the end of October 2018 to run its only shelter for houseless people in immediate need.
The Rescue Mission Alliance, the Syracuse-based non-profit that has operated Ithaca’s homeless shelter at 618 W. State/MLK Jr. St. since March 2014, will not be renewing its contract with Tompkins County when it expires on October 31, 2018. Currently, the Rescue Mission operates the 12-bed temporary shelter, the 15 beds of permanent supportive housing on the same site, and the Friendship Center, a drop-in center in the same building for people to hang out during the day that also serves several meals a week.
Your reporter caught wind of this news on Sunday when browsing what’s left of Craigslist’s “Rants & Raves.” According to that anonymous post, Rescue Mission staffers were told on June 26 that “the building would be vacated” as of October 31.
After calling the shelter and being told that staffers there could not comment on the situation, I went down to the Ithaca Rescue Mission on Monday and found Frank Sears sitting by the fence between the driveway and back yard of the Friendship Center.
Sears has lived at the Rescue Mission for four and a half years in the third floor single-room occupancy space, paying $330 a month out of his Social Security checks for rent. He said he’s the longest-tenured renter there.
“After October 31, there is no more Rescue Mission,” Sears said.
I called Amber Vander Ploeg, chief program officer for the Rescue Mission in Syracuse, and after missing a call from her Tuesday, have not had a response to further calls for comment. I ordinarily would sit on the story until an “official” comment was forthcoming, but Tompkins County’s public information officer, Marcia Lynch, sent out a press release Friday afternoon stating that the county will be issuing a “request for proposals” for homeless services on Monday, and the Voice and Times immediately ran stories based on that release.
The county will be asking for a service provider who can “Maintain emergency sheltering services as an essential element of the community’s safety net,” according to the release, along with providing the drop-in center, helping place people in hotels after hours when there are more people homeless than shelter beds, and help the Department of Social Services “develop and implement an efficient and effective plan for housing homeless persons during winter months” when the temperature is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
According to Sears’ sources, the Court Street Place permanent housing space for men will remain under Rescue Mission operation. A conference will be held on July 25 at 10 a.m. in the Beverly Livesay Conference Room at the Human Services Building for interested service providers, with proposals due on August 17.
According to Tompkins County legislator Shawna Black, chair of the Health & Human Services committee, the Rescue Mission has already dropped its role in placing people in hotels. During the winter months, the Rescue Mission had nightly numbers of more than 90 people a night, at times, asking for shelter, according to former Ithaca Rescue Mission director Rich Bennett, with most of those folks going to the EconoLodge on Triphammer Road. The state reimburses the county for those hotel costs during the winter, according to Black.
Kip Kephart, Department of Social Services commissioner, said at a Health & Human Services committee meeting on June 11 that “she has enough staff to manage the hotel voucher portion of the program during the current type of weather. She is uncertain if the Department would have the staffing to provide the same during Code Blue situations” during the winter months, according to meeting notes.
TruthSayers will update this story as we learn more. If you have a story about the struggle to find a place to live in Tompkins County, we always want to hear your story, and help you publish your truth: email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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TruthSayers founder/editor/reporter Josh Brokaw is doing his level best to live rent-free, at least through the summer months, while we figure out the whole “making money off media” thing. If you’ve got a spot to pitch a tent, a treehouse with a solid roof, or a trailer or camper that needs someone living in it, let him know.