If you've spent any time at all in the Civic Center garage in downtown Rochester, you've seen the signs: newspapers spread out to form a makeshift mattress, maybe an empty soup can nearby. The garage has been a shelter of last resort for the area's homeless for many years. The people who use the garage — the number people tend to use is around 30 — often can't or won't seek refuge in a legitimate shelter for a variety of reasons. Some may resent the shelters' rules, for example, or they may have behavioral problems.
Citing safety and liability concerns, the board of the local development corporation that owns the garage has decided to hire a security firm to "sweep" the garage during peak hours. At a meeting this morning, the Civil CenterMonroe County LDC agreed to a one-year contract with the Rochester-based AP Safety and Security Corp. The cost of the contract is approximately $55,500.
Prior to the vote, more than dozen advocates for the homeless — including some people who are currently homeless — spoke against hiring the security firm. Ejecting the homeless from the garage would result in dire consequences, the advocates said, maybe even death for some. Among the homeless population, one man said, almost nobody dies of old age.
Sister Grace Miller of the House of Mercy asked that the garage remain open to the homeless until advocates, working with the city and county, can open a shelter that would accept everyone.
The LDC board members said that while they're sympathetic, the situation at the garage cannot continue. There are grave safety, health, and liability issues associated with having homeless living in the garage, they said, including exposure to carbon dioxide and the potential for being run down by a vehicle.
And the people who park at the Civic Center garage are often faced with defecation, urination, and vomit left by the homeless, a board member said.
"It's not a healthy environment for our customers," he said.
Kelly Reed, commissioner of Monroe County Department of Human Services, said there is outreach taking place in the garage and that nearly 100 percent of the homeless who use the garage are engaged with the system in some way. Reed conceded that the area's shelters are often full, and said that she is willing to work with the House of Mercy and other agencies on a solution.
The garage's security officers will not be armed, board members said. They also said that the officers should be equipped with a list of resources for people they escort out of the garage.
Reached by phone after the meeting, Rochester City Council member Elaine Spaull said that a diligent review of the area's chronically homeless population needs to be done. Spaull works with homeless youth.