Sunday, December 21, 2014

Protest held over Oneida County's homeless voucher system

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - A group of about a dozen Utica residents gathered Sunday afternoon to try and get their voices heard.

They want laws changed so that taxpayers are not paying for homeless sex offenders to stay in area motels while the county helps them find more permanent housing.

The small group chose the section of North Genesee Street right off the Thruway exit and entrance to hold up signs, including one which says 'North Utica Says No to Sex Offenders.'

North Utica resident Ron Vincent was among the protesters. He said, "Who wants to see little children come to visit with their families and possibly having sex offenders bedding down in the room right next to them."

The county must, under state law, help all homeless people who come to the county for assistance, get housing, regardless of whether the person has a criminal past.

If area shelters are full, the county does ask low cost motels if they will accept county vouchers to pay for a homeless person to stay there a night or two until they can find them more permanent housing.

The county however, cannot legally reveal to the motel personnel whether the homeless person with a voucher has a criminal past.

Motels in North Utica that have accepted vouchers in the past from the county include the Super 8, the Scottish Inn and the Happy Journey Motel, all right off the Thruway exit.

The owners of the Scottish Inn and Happy Journey Motel have told NEWSChannel 2 they will no longer accept county vouchers for the homeless.

A member of the staff at Super 8 told NEWSChannel 2, 'No comment'.

Dawn LaGuerre of Utica also took part in Sunday's protest. She said, "There's a more appropriate place to use those vouchers, and the vouchers aren't the appropriate thing, then maybe they need to consider building housing, but it's not an appropriate use of taxpayer funds."

The protesters were led by two members of Utica's Common Council who also held a Community Forum on this very issue this past Monday at the North Utica Community Center.

Those Council members are Councilor At Large Jim Zecca and 1st Ward Councilman Frank Vescera.

Vescera says the motels are not the problem. He says the laws are the problem, "None of them have any blame in this. This is a policy issue that the county and the state have to resolve."

Zecca says he hopes this protest can be the beginning of bigger things to come to get things changed. He said, "This is an issue that involves state law and county law and a combination thereof. Until you take action and do things like this, nothing's going to happen."

Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente has asked members of Utica's Common Council to meet Monday evening about this issue and to discuss the county's voucher system.

Zecca and Vescera say they are not sure what their next move will be with this group, but say they will not stop until something is done to get the voucher system changed so that convicted sex offenders are not put up in motels in Utica by the county.