Invisibility is a status usually reserved for superheroes or daydreams. In those contexts, being invisible gives one the power to outwit enemies, gain access to privileged information and other cool stuff.
But for the local homeless people, being “invisible” is far from having a super power.
The “invisible” homeless of Otsego County don’t fit the stereotype of the unshaven man sitting on the sidewalk with a cardboard sign and a cup half-full of spare change. Instead, they are working mothers, couch surfers, country boys and others who, for one reason or another, have fallen through the cracks and wound up without a place to call home.
To look at them, you might never know they were homeless.
But to Tony Longo, a retired emergency housing associate for Oneonta’s Opportunity House, that’s just because we’re not looking hard enough.
“People don’t want to know about (homelessness,)” Longo said. “America is a generous nation, and so people want to just donate money and say ‘here ... fix it.’”
The Opportunity House, which opened its doors about 10 years ago off River Street in Oneonta, has housed more than 200 people in the past year alone. The facility screens prospective occupants to ensure that sex offenders, violent criminals and drug users are not admitted.
We recall vividly the outcry that erupted when the homeless shelter was proposed. It is a testament to the hard work of those who operate the shelter that the fears of increased crime have proven unfounded.
There is no single answer to what has brought hundreds of people to the local shelter over these past several years. But there are theories.
Longo opined that the support system provided for homeless people is “like a bed of nails,” noting that the government is often at odds with aid agencies over how much support should be made available. The push-and-pull, Longo said, makes it hard for people to rise out of poverty.
Opportunities for Otsego’s housing and employment manager, Liane Hirabayashi, said the most common reason people end up at the homeless shelter is that they cannot afford to pay rent or have been evicted.
It’s no secret that there is something of a housing crunch in Oneonta, especially at the low-income end of the scale. But to hear that the lack of affordable housing in the city is driving some people to homelessness — well, that’s appalling.
We applaud the Opportunity House for giving some of these people a roof over their heads, and we hope that recent projects to add more low-income housing to the city are only the beginning of a growing trend. Goodness knows we could use it.