What can Marietta do about homeless people shipped in from other states?
That was the question for the City Council on Tuesday night after Councilwoman Michelle Cooper Kelly called for a discussion of New York City’s “Special One-Time Assistance” program and others like it.
Under SOTA, New York has sent 5,074 homeless families or 12,482 individuals to 32 states and Puerto Rico since August of 2017, according to an investigation in the New York Post.
“I think the city of Marietta and Cobb County does a great job taking care of our own homeless folks,” Kelly said. “We’ve got some great agencies with MUST Ministries, we’ve got some other wraparound services to try to provide veterans services, mental services, things that people need to get themselves back on their feet, but being able to take on the plight of other states, I just don’t think Marietta is equipped to do so.”
According to the website for the New York City Human Resources Administration, the program is available to adults and families who have been staying in a shelter for at least 90 days and who have enough income to make future rent payments based on rent not exceeding 50% of their income. Those eligible can receive a full year’s rent to move within New York City, to other locations in New York, to another state or to Puerto Rico or Washington.
Kelly and others said they are concerned an influx of new homeless residents could overwhelm local groups such as MUST Ministries.
A MUST spokesperson told the MDJ they have not seen a flood of out-of-towners applying for space in their shelter. Lack of room has long been an issue for MUST, and the nonprofit has plans for a new shelter, but the nonprofit said 80% of those who stayed in their Elizabeth Inn shelter last year were from Cobb.
According to data linked by the Post, one household has been relocated to Marietta, one to Kennesaw and two to Smyrna. Another 13 have moved to Atlanta.
Kelly said because the recipients receive a full year’s rent, they may go undetected until that money runs out in the 13th month.
Mayor Steve Tumlin said he thinks that is by design.
“I can’t help but think they’re being smart. They give people time to get on our welfare roll, so to speak. I don’t think they’re doing it to help them, they want to make sure they can have medical benefits. … If they’re here for a year and they become residents of the state, it gets them off the New York supplemental health care.”
Kelly said Newark, New Jersey, has received the most new residents from the program, and recently passed a housing ordinance regarding how landlords treat homeless populations.
She asked City Attorney Doug Haynie if there is anything the city can do about the issue.
Haynie said he will meet with City Manager Bill Bruton and Development Services Director Rusty Roth to discuss possible solutions.
“I looked at the New York website today, and they said their purpose is to take care of the citizens of New York and the citizens in their community. What is happening does not seem consistent with what is on the website. I think what you do is let us bring something back to you either on the December (Judicial and Legislative Committee meeting) or January, but this is not going to be what I call a quick fix,” Haynie said.
Councilwoman Cheryl Richardson said she agrees other governments should not be able to export residents without at least notifying the receiving governments, but she is not confident the city has the authority to stop them.
“My concern is that with the constitutional guarantees of being able to move freely, stopping this is going to be impossible. I also think that what we might find … is that it’s going to take the federal government to put a program in place because we can’t direct the state of New York to tell us anything, nor will they. … I don’t know that we as a city have the wherewithal to tell the state of New York or the city of New York, ‘if you send them here, you’d better tell us first.’ I think they’re going to say ‘Yeah, OK, that letter is in the mail.”