County to test tiny houses as homeless shelter

Julie Lewis | The Daily StarGary Brackett, professor of Construction Management, second from right, and assistant professor, Justin Forster, right, go over plans with freshmen architecture students Derek Miller, left, and Christian Calore in the partially framed 11-by-22-foot tiny house under construction outside of Smith Hall at SUNY Delhi on Friday.

Otsego County is testing a new approach to temporarily house people who are homeless and better connect them with tools to help them get on their feet.

A tiny neighborhood of between six and eight tiny homes will soon crop up behind the Meadows office complex, where Social Services and other county departments are located. At 242 square feet, the homes are a snug and temporary location for single men to stay for about four months.

Construction began this week at the State University of New York at Delhi, where architecture and construction students will be completing the 11-feet-by-22-feet abodes through the fall and winter. Once finished, they will be transported to the location behind the Meadows by truck and connected to plumbing.

“This was a collaborative effort,” said Delhi Professor of Applied Technologies Gary Brackett, who will be leading about 75 students in construction. Students also submitted design proposals to the county that were assimilated into the final design for all the homes.

“It was a major hurdle to build a house that satisfied codes,” Brackett said. “They had to do a lot of research.”

The units will include an apartment-sized refrigerator, a two-burner cooktop and eating counter, a bathroom with a shower stall and small closet alcoves.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found in a 2014 audit that Otsego was paying more for homeless housing than four surrounding counties, and directed the county to fix it. The county has spent nearly $1 million a year to provide shelter for the homeless, which has necessitated lodging people in motels.

According to the Department of Social Services, which will oversee the tiny homes, 121 adults and 17 children have been put up in motels in the first quarter of 2018, and a total of 140 adults and 28 children were housed in other locations, including a homeless shelter operated by Opportunities for Otsego.

The number of homeless varies daily, according to DSS Commissioner Eve Bouboulis. DSS will be coordinating staff positions with oversight of the neighborhood, she said, and the homes will be outfitted with surveillance cameras.

The single-occupant homes meet a high need for affordable housing for single men, and should provide shelter for between 18 and 24 people each year. Senior county planner Erik Scrivener said the tiny homes were inspired by a similar project in Syracuse.

People staying in the homes will be able to easily access social services in the Meadows Office, including Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, housing case management, temporary and employment assistance, and treatment from substance abuse or mental health providers. The sheriff’s office is also around the corner on county Route 33.

“The goal is to gain skills and be on a recovery plan,” Scrivener said. “Hopefully this will be successful and we can open it up in other places.”

Erin Jerome, staff writer, may be reached at (607) 441-7221, or at ejerome@thedailystar.com. Follow her on Twitter at @DS_ErinJ .

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