Affordable housing programs aim to reduce homelessness in Tompkins County

David Reed, a tenant of Second Wind Cottages, sits in his home. Reed was formerly homeless, but has been living independently since December 2013.

Harsh winter weather conditions in Ithaca have raised concern over people who do not have a place to take refuge from the cold, but several programs have been put in place to get people into housing.

Some of the homeless population in Ithaca lives in an encampment called ‘The Jungle,’ which is located along the railroad tracks by Wegmans. In December 2013, Richard Sherman, an occupant of ‘The Jungle,’ burned to death because a fire he had going to keep himself warm got out of control.

Currently, there is an emergency shelter at 618 W. State Street where the homeless can go if they need shelter from the cold. It is operated by the American Red Cross but starting March 1st, The Rescue Mission, a group started in Syracuse, will take over running the shelter.

The Rescue Mission is a program directed at ending homelessness through a support program. They operate The Court Street Place in Ithaca, which provides dormitory style living for men who are or are at risk of being homeless.

Amanda Erwin, communication specialist for The Rescue Mission, said, “People who experience homelessness are more vulnerable than most people think. It creates health problems just being in the elements. Not just the cold, but hot as well.”

Rise of the housing-first method

Kathy Schlanger, executive director at the Human Services Coalition of Tompkins County (HSCTC) said one of the best ways to reduce homelessness is to provide programs for people to find affordable housing.

“There’s a effort now toward a housing first method, where you find people housing, then you can work on whatever issues that make them homeless,” Schlanger said. “Moving people out of the shelters and into housing has been a real push in the past five or six years.”

The problem of finding affordable housing is one of the reasons Carmen Guidi, a mechanic in Newfield, started his Second Wind Cottages project. This project was started last winter, when Guidi had housed six homeless men from the Ithaca area in heated campers for the winter.

Guidi said he realized they could expand on this idea and make a more permanent style affordable housing option for these men.

“I started getting involved with feeding the homeless in Ithaca,” Guidi said. “Basically I started trying to help them with their physical needs; food, water, blankets, things like that, until one of the guys committed suicide because he was so desperate. He had been homeless for so long and never thought he could have a place to live….That really got me more proactive in helping men find housing.”

Second Wind Cottages is located on route 13 in Newfield, just south of Ithaca. Guidi has donated the land he owns for his repair garage to the project so they can have a non-profit place for the cottages.

Currently, there are six cottages, but Guidi hopes to expand this number to eighteen and to add a common room over the next few years.

Affordable Housing Success Story

David Reed, a tenant of Second Wind, was an occupant of ‘The Jungle’ when he started corresponding with Guidi. Having been in and out of housing, and after spending a year in jail, Reed decided it was time he made a change.

Reed was one of the original occupants who lived in the heated campers and said he was happy to hear Guidi was planning to build a more permanent residence.

“I like it because you don’t have to go through DSS, you don’t have to have pre-approval to get into this place. I mean, you do have to sign a lease and they check your background,” Reed said. “But they’re not going to turn you away because you can’t afford it.”