The homeless, the opioid epidemic and jobs at forefront in county address
By whitney joseph
dutchess county — Just what kind of condition is the county in these days? That’s exactly the type of question Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro answered during his State of the County address on Friday, Feb. 20, given at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, before public distancing became the new norm.
“I love this place, and I know we are not perfect,” he said. “We are not free of challenges or devoid of problems… But in Dutchess, we don’t run from our problems…”
Today, one of the biggest problems is dealing with COVID-19. But in February, before the pandemic hit the U.S., Molinaro said a major problem the county is facing is homelessness. According to him, from 2018 to 2019, it saw an 18% increase in its homeless population. As of Dec. 31, 2019, the Department of Community and Family Services provided placements for 80 homeless families, 101 homeless singles and one homeless couple. Molinaro said the issue runs deep.
“The face of homelessness has changed,” he said. “The problem is different today than it was 20 or 30 years ago — before the last real estate bubble, before the acceptance of addiction as an illness, before the closure of mental health institutions across New York and before this strong economy.”
One solution? Affordable housing, said Molinaro, adding more transitional housing is needed. He pointed to projects in Poughkeepsie and Wappingers Falls that are providing affordable housing -— much of which will provide for the homeless.
That led to talk about the opioid epidemic, which Dutchess County is battling along with the rest of the country. He said that the nation “witnessed its first decline in drug deaths in 28 years,” adding to the good news that “in 2019, Dutchess County experienced its first year-to-year decline in opioid-related deaths since 2014.”
Still, in 2018 there were 93 overdose deaths in the county; in 2019, there were 77. Fewer, but still too many.
Sobered by that reality, Molinaro added that “there is so much more work to be done to put an end to this destructive epidemic.”
To that end, the county executive praised the Opioid Task Force, healthcare and treatment providers and the Department of Behavioral and Community Health (DBCH) staff for more diverse and more readily available medication-assisted treatment options.
He spoke of the Stabilization Center, which provides such treatments through a partnership with MidHudson Regional and HRHcare. And he spoke of the center’s future.
“We are taking the lock off the door, opening our arms to all in need, to all searching for an answer in a time of crisis,” said Molinaro.
The county’s strategy, he said, “at the center and in the community, supports multiple pathways to recovery and is sensitive to complex co-occuring mental health and health disorders.” All of which, he hopes, will help lead to long-term recovery.
The State of the County address also highlighted the economy, which Molinaro described as “strong” at the time. Unemployment was less than 3.5%; there had been 27 months of private sector job growth; workers had seen a 1% increase in average weekly wages since 2015; there were roughly 3,000 net new jobs; and nearly $5 billion in development was underway. Those figures have changed since the health crisis hit.
Calling the county’s economy “competitive” and “dynamic,” Molinaro offered hope then that many are clinging to now.
He spoke of “an aggressive tourism promotion effort to bring concerts to our parks, celebrations to our communities and millions of people to Dutchess,” along with their spending dollars.
Molinaro spoke about parks and trails, of which the county has 1,000 acres and nearly 40 miles.
“We have a pretty awesome backyard,” he said.
He added the county will offer training and create a Greenway Compact guide to municipal leaders on how to protect water resources. In addition, stormwater and runoff management will be added to the Community Development Block Grant priority list to “avoid overburdening sewer systems.” That means communities throughout the county — and right here in the Harlem Valley — may qualify for funding to pursue their own wastewater treatment facilities.