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Letter: No quick solutions to homelessness

A homeless man panhandles along Eighth Avenue in

A homeless man panhandles along Eighth Avenue in Manhattan on May 18, 2015. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt

While we appreciate the Newsday editorial board’s attention to the plight of the homeless, clarion calls do little to address the roots of our many social, economic and NIMBY issues that contribute to the increasing numbers of homeless people on Long Island [“A challenge here at home,” Editorial, Dec. 29].

Different state agencies maintain oversight of housing-related regulations, funding streams remain disjointed and inadequate, housing costs are prohibitive, and there are issues of population density and varying local controls over zoning.

Quoting anonymous advocates who allegedly complain that “it’s too complex to get into the system” is not only misinformed but offers no solutions to the statutory and financial restrictions that govern admission to homeless shelters. Nassau County is very aware of the exact number of beds in our system, as we explicitly detailed to a Newsday editorial board member. Nassau also recently issued a request for proposals seeking to add regular and medically supervised shelter beds, a process that demands a rigorous examination and vetting of applicants.

Newsday’s call for “sober homes” ignores the fact that New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services refuses to set licensing standards for such homes, thereby allowing any group to call itself a “sober home” without specific statuary oversight of the conditions and treatment of its residents.

While Newsday states that “the real answer lies in transitioning people off the streets, out of the shelters, and into appropriate permanent housing,” where exactly is this to be found when the state reimburses Nassau $288 for an individual and $608 for a homeless family of seven each month; when communities refuse permits for group homes; and when mentally ill homeless people are seen as dangerous eyesores to be rousted and sent elsewhere?

Despite outreach efforts, many homeless individuals refuse shelter assistance because of mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction or the unfounded fear that our shelters are dangerous.

The obstacles related to this growing local problem require responsibly planned and sustained collaborative initiatives, not wide nets of blame cast on counties or communities.

John E. Imhof, Uniondale

Editor’s note: The writer is the commissioner of the Nassau County Department of Social Services.