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Inaugural homelessness summit drew crowd from three counties to Lowville

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LOWVILLE — Organizers were hoping to get 70 people to attend the inaugural Lewis County Homelessness Summit on Wednesday. Instead, they drew more than 100 people to share information and discuss tackling the region’s homelessness problem.

“We had representatives from all three counties,” said Penny L. Demo, Lewis County Department of Social Services executive assistant, with guests from Lewis, Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties.

Along with nonprofit and human services agencies, several landlords were at the event.

Keynote speaker Samuel E. Miller, senior management analyst and homeless coordinator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, discussed the impact of diminishing federal funds and how other areas are banding together with communitywide projects to better address their homelessness issues. He mentioned as an example a Buffalo project that has had great success.

“Really, it’s just neighbors helping neighbors,” Mr. Miller said.

He urged community agencies to help their government representatives understand the need for assistance with data and success stories.

“It costs about $37,000 a year for a person to live on the street,” he said, with medical costs and other provided services. A more cost-effective measure, he said, is making resources available to help money go back into the local economy.

For Sandra M. Roberts, Lewis County Head Start executive director, the summit “provided a bigger picture for me of what happens at the state level and how the money trickles down.”

Homelessness does have an impact at Head Start.

“We’re often not aware until we get to know a family and get to know their housing status. If someone lives with a neighbor or is staying on someone’s couch, that’s homelessness,” Ms. Roberts said. “What happens at home affects what happens at school.”

Jeremy M. Marshall, outreach specialist at the Watertown Vet Center, explained the many programs the center, at 210 Court St., has to offer and urged other agencies to pass homeless veterans or those in danger of becoming homeless along to his program.

The summit, sponsored by Pratt-Northam Foundation, Transitional Living Services of Northern New York, Lewis County Opportunities and Lewis County, also featured guest speakers from the Lewis County Department of Social Services, Snow Belt Housing Co. Inc. and the Supportive Housing Network of New York. A free lunch was provided to all attendees. Artwork by Lewis County students, themed “what homelessness looks like to me,” was also on display.

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