DSS commissioner, county address area homelessness

MALONE — The Franklin County Commissioner of Social Services addressed county lawmakers prior to their regular meeting at the courthouse Thursday requesting assistance in her agency’s work to help the homeless population across the county. Michelle Mulverhill said that she sees a need to better coordinate the many service providers that work to connect unhoused people with shelter, food, and mental and physical health care.

“I’m here to ask for a new position,” Mulverhill told lawmakers. “It’s a case manager position.”

She said the position would be based at the Department of Social Services (DSS) and be part of a homeless unit she wants to form.

She said current workers focused on the homeless include social welfare examiners (SWE) and a case services aide.

“What’s been happening in the last year is we’re seeing a dramatic rise in the homeless people that are coming into the building,” Mulverhill explained. She said many of those people are suffering from physical disabilities, mental health problems, and substance use disorders in a trend that is more pronounced than the department has seen in the past.

“We’re seeing probably about 50 applications a month right now that we’re dealing with,” Mulverhill said. “We’re placing about 32 a month within the conditional and homeless housing at this time.”

She said although she is pleased with the job SWEs are doing with the homeless populations, the agency is not always equipped to deal with the behaviors of some of the people in need, or to properly connect them to the services they need.

“They handle benefits,” county manager Donna Kissane clarified, adding that those individuals are not trained in the treatment component many homeless need, such as mental health or substance use disorder treatment.”

Mulverhill said she hopes a case manager would help to remedy this by working with homeless people as they present to DSS, through their time in a shelter, and into permanent housing.

“We’ll continue to assist them until they meet their goals,” Mulverhill told lawmakers. “We will draft a plan for them and once they’re ready to go we’ll let them go. It’s more that we’re helping them and wrapping them up, rather than just putting a band-aid on them on the front end and then letting them go.”

Wraparound services is a term frequently used in human services and refers to an encompassing approach to meeting the needs of people in a comprehensive way that addresses all those needs. According to housingforward.org, Wraparound services are designed to provide comprehensive, personalized supports and resources so that individuals and families are able to address the complex issues and challenges that often accompany homelessness and can interfere with obtaining long-term housing stability.

Mulverhill said she is confident she can cover salary requirements for the position with funds currently in hand.

“I’ll be able to look around and maximize my reimbursement as much as I can for this position,” she told legislators. She said that with rising costs for housing homeless at hotels and motels she feels this is the time to introduce the case management position, something many New York counties already utilize.

“The cost is going so I think it really is the time to be able to get in there and to assist them to be able to get out of some of these places,” Mulverhill said. She said while current workers inform people presenting as homeless to DSS of the resources available to them, current staff lack the ability to directly hand people off to the agencies that provide those resources.

“I think we can do a little bit more,” she said.

Lawmakers expressed support for Mulverhill’s plan, and she told the Telegram Friday that the next steps are drawing up a job description to clear with the state, after which she expects a resolution to move to through the legislature fairly rapidly.


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