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EDITORIAL: Act nimbly to cut homelessness

Michelle Tingle and her son, Zuriel Mason, 9,

Michelle Tingle and her son, Zuriel Mason, 9, have been living in a homeless shelter in Deer Park since February. (Dec. 28, 2009) Credit: Mahala Gaylord

As the economy remains frozen and the weather turns frigid, more families - and single people - are falling into homelessness, at the worst possible time. That will require county officials to be nimble and creative. In Suffolk, for example, that means exploring the feasibility of buying buildings in industrial areas and converting them to housing. There will be obstacles, but it's worth a try.

The immediate problem in Suffolk is sex offenders. State law mandates that the county house homeless offenders, but local residency legislation has drastically narrowed the parts of the county where they can live. So the Department of Social Services has been using two trailers, now full. Even putting the offenders in an industrial area won't be a slam dunk, because that area is bound to be in some legislator's district. But it has to be a better solution than the trailers.

Industrial properties could also help get families out of motels. For months, that number had been zero, but the recession has brought that sad phenomenon back. Living in a converted industrial building might not be ideal, but it would be an improvement over motels, if the renovation is done well. The county must also continue what it has been doing: getting families into permanent homes. That beats any shelter.

In times when people have to depend on government to get through, the counties have to stay ahead of the game. This industrial building plan seems to fit that description. hN