Faced With 100-plus Homeless Evictions Norwich Community Barely Avoids Crisis
Published: June 10th, 2022
By: Tyler Murphy

Faced with 100-plus homeless evictions Norwich community barely avoids crisis Norwich police speak with a homeless man along the Chenango River Wednesday afternoon, near the city line, where several tents and camps are located. Police said more tents have been appearing in recent weeks, most are located just outside the city limits. (Photo by Tyler Murphy)

NORWICH – With only a few days notice the Family Enrichment Network sent a message to several local organizations that more than 100 homeless people would be forced out of area hotels because the group had run out of money.

“My program for ES is out of money. Everyone I have in hotels (and its over 100 people) will be forced to check out on 5/14,” wrote Norwich Family Enrichment Network Housing Case Manager Shannon Wright on May 10.

The message was sent on a Tuesday and evictions were expected to take place that Saturday.

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The email and other communications by the group were revealed Thursday by the Chenango County Department of Social Services after several information requests were made by the Evening Sun.

Chenango County Social Service Commissioner Daniel Auwarter said, “On May 10 an email communication was sent out from a Family Enrichment Network Housing Case Manager to several recipients of local organizations stating that ESG-CV program funds were low and was anticipating ending assistance for some cases on May 14.”

Auwarter said a funding solution was figured out in time to avoid the evictions.

But for at least two days local officials, churches and other goodwill groups in the Norwich area said they struggled with how to deal with the prospective sudden eviction of so many homeless people into a small community, some of which were reported to be sex offenders and drug users.

DSS contacted Family Enrichment management to check on the situation. They reported that in an email on May 11 Family Enrichment Network Director of Housing Chastity McEwen said the group had “...spent a significant amount of money in shelter. We need to modify the budget.”

Auwarter said, “My office contacted The [New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance] to inquire about the status of the ESG-CV funding and it is my understanding that Family Enrichment staff worked with OTDA on modifying the line-item budget to adjust for longer support of these placements. Placements were continued using a line-item budget request process.”

The DSS commissioner returned from a planned vacation on Wednesday to respond to questions from public officials and the press.

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Damage control?

After the incident was revealed to the public in recent weeks representatives at Family Enrichment's Norwich office said they had nothing to do with the situation. Despite several attempts, representatives at the Family Enrichment Network have refused to answer questions directly and have instead engaged a public relations firm.

The firm is now putting pressure on news outlets, and local charities have reported that representatives from the Family Enrichment Network have been contacting them and urging they not share information with the public.

Some public officials who inquired about the issue after the fact said they were told it was not a concern and were not given details. Some said they were only made aware of the issue after seeing it covered in the local press. At the onset of the news coverage people speaking to the Evening Sun sought confidentially because they feared reprisals.

A month ago the Family Enrichment Network was housing more than 100 people locally, but currently only 38 are being housed.

Trysail Strategies Public Relations representative Adam Croglia, who is speaking on behalf of Family Enrichment, said 30 families found housing, seven left the program, and 11 families were evicted by the hotel for breaking rules.

“The 11 families that were evicted by the hotels were evicted by the hotel for a variety of reasons (drug use, property damage, fighting, stealing, and unsanitary conditions). These families were offered a variety of services and declined. The services offered and declined were rehab, YMCA, YWCA, RISE, bus passes and other hotel accommodations,” he reported.

Asked, “Why did the public information get so convoluted you think?”

“The source of the misinformation snowball can be traced back to the fact that there are some people that were placed in a specific hotel for temporary housing that are no longer living there. Of course, it’s not because our organization evicted them, but for one of two reasons. One: Some people self-elected to be removed from the temporary housing program instead of working with a case manager on a pathway out of homelessness. Two: Some people were kicked out of the hotel for violating hotel rules, like fighting, drug use, etc. Family Enrichment Network continued to support those people by making alternate options available to them,” he said.

Croglia made no mention of the email sent by the Family Enrichment Center and denied funding was an issue.

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Did Family Enrichment ever contact anyone about a lack of funding or say anyone would be forced to leave?

“There is not lack of funding and nobody was forced to leave – as proven with data in the document I shared snapshotting program participants,” he responded.

He provided a document showing the current occupancies and recent outcomes for the 70 families in question.

Asked why such short notice was given about the lack of funding on May 10 Auwarter said, “Family Enrichment Network holds the ESG-CV grant and responsibility for administering it under agreement with NYS OTDA, including external communications about its status.”

48 hours to find housing for 100-plus homeless

After the Family Enrichment Network sent the message warning that 100-plus homeless people faced possible eviction, a special meeting of about 30 organizations who are part of the Chenango Area Recovery Team (CART) met on May 12, a Thursday, to discuss what could possibly be done in the next 48 hours to avoid a crisis.

Auwarter was at the meeting and said, “The [Family Enrichment Network] case manager’s email on May 10th  was simultaneously sent to numerous organizations and entities, as is the case with mass emails. The United Way was one of the recipients of these emails, and they made a decision to call a Zoom meeting in the following day or two to discuss the reported crisis of possible hotel 'evictions.'”

United Way Executive Director Elizabeth Monaco reported, “They (local groups and churches) were being told that local funding was ending and that a large number of homeless families being housed in local hotels would no longer be served.”

Norwich Mayor Brian Doliver, who attended the meeting, said it was clear that public safety was a top concern both for those being evicted and the community.

“They explained to us that as of that Saturday at 11 a.m., that same week, there would be no funding. So there was a lot of questions, my questions were obviously as mayor, my question is public safety for the people being let go and my community.”

Pastor Jen Westervelt said, “As we understood it there were 86 people who were going to lose the housing, that had been supplied to them at local motels, and it was going to happen in a matter of days. As we understood it there were children involved in that, there were adults, there were people with checked pasts with drug activity, mental health concerns, as well as sex offenders.”

“So it was a very mixed bag of demographics. The one thing they all had in common was they could not find suitable housing or couldn't afford it. The funding had run out, and though it could be reinstated in June, they couldn't stay there.”

She added, “The Family Enrichment Network was there and the representative, there were actually a couple representatives on the call, and it was hard to gauge how we arrived at this point because there was definitely some confusion over: How did this become such a problem so quickly? Why did we not prepare for this knowing it was on the horizon?”

At the meeting local churches were asked to take in the homeless, others in the meeting advised giving them tents.

DSS was firmly against handing out tents.

“Social Services will go on record here to state that we do not recognize tents as a viable intervention to homelessness,” said Auwarter.

Doliver said, “So we were kind of getting ourselves prepared for what may happen, but of course it didn't happen. But we had to be ready, we didn't know what to expect, we really didn't.”

Solution found, crisis averted

After holding discussions the group adjourned and set up a second meeting to discuss more options but by the time they met a second time within the next day, the funding had been accommodated by the state, OTDA, after communications by the Family Enrichment Network and DSS

“OTDA was able to move quickly following our communication with them and worked with [Family Enrichment Network] management to adjust the budget and keep individuals sheltered in the meantime.  Hence, there were no evictions as originally warned about by the [Family Enrichment Network] case manager in the original email blast.  The United Way was informed of this, and in their subsequent Zoom meeting they informed the attendees that the situation had been addressed through OTDA and the [Family Enrichment Network],” reported Auwarter.

The DSS commissioner also released this statement:

“My department consists of amazing staff who are dedicated, talented and knowledgeable about assistance, intervention, and safety.

“Our emergency services and temporary assistance staff, who work with homeless clients, have consistently shown their ability to help place individuals who are willing to accept and comply with program rules in safe and appropriate housing, whether it be a temporary measure while more permanent solutions are explored or through helping clients connect with resources in their life that are willing to help such as relatives or friends. 

“In the past, we have helped clients connect with resources as far away as Alaska and helped families avert homelessness by helping them re-connect with these support systems.  Helping clients connect with appropriate personal supports is a well-established way to avoid homelessness and our staff help clients identify such potential supports and work directly with them to ascertain if they can provide temporary help while we provide additional information and guidance about how to develop longer-term measures of self-dependence.

“Effective and fluid communication among local stakeholders is essential in providing a coordinated and community response to county need.

“I believe that the housing coalition and coordinated entry process we have developed locally with local programs in the past months including Greater Opportunities, Catholic Charities, Chenango Health Network, Chenango County Behavioral Health and ADAS services, Family Enrichment, Liberty Resources, and others is a significant evolution of that communication and will help ensure that clients are served quickly and appropriately.”