TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—Next steps for The Ithaca Designated Encampment Site (TIDES) proposal were discussed at Monday’s Health and Human Services committee meeting, which can be viewed in full here.

The plan was explained by the working group that has helped design the TIDES proposal, made up of Alderpersons Cynthia Brock and George McGonigal, Regional Director for Saint John’s Community Center Chris Teitelbaum, and Tompkins County Legislators Travis Brooks and Rich John, as well as David Shapiro, the new executive director of Second Wind Cottages, and Jason Demarest, a local architect.

To refresh, the TIDES proposal would construct 25 or so cottages and a common bathroom and community space, currently proposed for where the actual Jungle is now, a largely unsanctioned homeless encampment in or near the woods around Southwest Park in Ithaca, behind the big box retail stores like WalMart, Bed, Bath & Beyond and others. Its aim is to provide better, safer housing to the unhoused population, though it would also introduce more serious ramifications for those that are unhoused in Ithaca but not living in the TIDES development.

Brock said transitional and supportive housing are the concrete steps that will allow homeless individuals to move into permanent housing. The group’s requests to the city included “urging the [Planning and Economic Development Committee] to declare that a sanctioned encampment site serves an essential government function,” undergo a process to select a city site, to allocate city support, and select a contractor to manage the site and a request for proposal (RFP), while providing a sample budget.

Brock also said that the PEDC was supportive of the requests, and that a further discussion will be happening later this week at its Wednesday meeting.

“We ask that the county expand the Continuum of Care (CoC) to include sanctioned encampment sites in their strategy to support those living unhoused,” Brock said.

When Code Blue goes into effect during the cold months, encampment sites will naturally dissipate as they do each year, but come spring, they will be repopulated — “It’s time for a new approach,” Brock said.

Legislator Mike Sigler asked what differentiates a shelter versus an encampment. Teitelbaum responded, saying that one difference is the “rules” that shelters require, versus a program like TIDES that focuses on being a low/no-barrier environment. As it is currently proposed, the TIDES program would not require sobriety from those who live there, for example, while a normal shelter would have such a requirement.

“We really want a space where individuals can be if they’re willing to follow the basic outlines […] a barrier of just ‘Can you cohabitate with other individuals?’ without having to jump through state hoops that DSS requires,” Teitelbaum said.

Legislator Rich John said that outdoor drug use, garbage and other like activities would be disallowed — but Teitelbaum supplied peaceful cohabitation as the guidelines currently proposed.

In county shelters currently, individuals are typically asked to occupy other areas, like the Friendship Center, for some of the day, whereas with TIDES, individuals living there would be able to stay as they wish.

Sigler asked if background checks would be required for TIDES admittance, and whether or not sex offenders would be allowed to live in the designated encampment.

Teitelbaum said that the county does segregate sex offenders from others, though sex offenders currently do live with other members of the homeless community in unsanctioned encampments in the Jungle.

Teitelbaum also noted that TIDES is simply the group of people who saw a problem and want to solve it — if the program is going to move forward further, a new group of people, including individuals with lived experiences with homelessness — would begin to figure out more concrete needs and steps forward.

Similar support was voiced for moving forward quickly in order to take advantage of when unsanctioned encampments are already uninhabited.

Sigler said that he’s concerned that providing individuals with a different housing option doesn’t mean that they’ll accept the services, and that “you need the mental health care first,” not housing.

Teitelbaum said that he believes that one of the problems with the Arthaus affordable housing project is that people who were housed there weren’t necessarily ready to be “good neighbors,” and that transitional housing will help reacclimate individuals who haven’t been living in situations where they had to be a neighbor.

Brooks also noted that a difference between Arthaus and TIDES is that Arthaus wasn’t designed with an individual doing the job of providing wraparound services, but TIDES will have a built-in support system.

“TIDES is not the end all be all — this is a part of the solution, not the solution,” Brooks said.

Fire Chief Tom Parsons said that he believes TIDES is a great concept and “absolutely an essential step to get people towards more structured housing,” but that he’s worried that if unsanctioned housing laws aren’t enforced, sanctioned housing may fail if individuals decide they no longer wish to abide by the rules set in place. One of the more contentious aspects of the TIDES plan is sure to be that if it is approved, it would trigger more serious ramifications for those who are experiencing homelessness but don’t live in the sanctioned encampment, either by choice or, potentially, because of capacity issues.

There was also some discussion about alternatives for where the physical location of TIDES, during which empty buildings in Lansing as well as apartments on Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3) property were mentioned by Legislator Randy Brown.

A meeting with all involved county staff will be scheduled for the next month.

Childcare

Melissa Perry from the Child Development Council discussed the state of childcare in Tompkins County.

Perry reported that two-thirds of children aged 5 and under do not have access to licensed or regulated childcare — meaning that Tompkins County is a childcare desert, which is defined as an area with more than 50 children under 5 with no childcare providers, or an area with more than three children for every childcare enrollment slot.

The Child Development Council is a resource and referral agency that helps connect and inform families and employers about childcare opportunities, as well as provide emergency scholarships for families with sudden income loss.

The council is also proposing a transformative action plan that provides start-up costs for new licensed and registered programs to and protect childcare opportunities and expand current childcare centers.

Perry said that recently, the Tompkins County YMCA, Coddington Childcare Center and various other care centers received funding from the Regional Economic Developmental Council to develop and expand programs.

“We have found that the best way to increase the supply of childcare is really focusing on those family daycare programs — that is a program where the care is provided in a primary residence,” Perry said, adding that the county focuses its funds on supporting those programs.

Other news and notes

Kit Kephart from the Department of Social Services said that though the state will be closing the ERAP program, which subsequently will result in an anticipated slew of increased evictions, additional funding from the Office of Temporary Disability Assistance (OTDA) will become available as long as the county partially matches the funds.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...