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'It's the only option for people to stay warm': Advocates react to increased security at garage

Monroe County Civic Center
WXXI News

Monroe County Executive Adam Bello announced a new security plan for the Civic Center garage in downtown Rochester, just days after police say a man was attacked in the garage leaving an event at the Blue Cross Arena with his family.

Bello said the event was both unacceptable and damaging to the family and the community.

“We are currently implementing a multi-faceted security improvement plan for the garage that we initiated last year following a security assessment. Everyone who parks at the Civic Center Garage for work or while attending events at the Blue Cross Arena should feel safe and secure,” Bello said in a statement released Tuesday.

Part of the plan includes 24-7 security and outreach to place homeless people in safer housing. The goal is to get them in shelters, warming centers and hotels.

Gary Harding is with Recovery All Ways (RAW), one of several organizations helping to place Rochester’s homeless during cold temperatures. He said the attack represents a very small percentage of Rochester’s homeless.

“People are just going there for survival, and there's heat, said Harding. “I don't want people living there.”

Harding said he wants the people that park in the garage to be safe but there are limited options for homeless people.

Sabine Adler, an advocate with Rochester Homeless Union, said with the exception of hotels, the county’s options for placement don’t work for many of Rochester’s homeless, and the Civic Center garage is the only option for some people to stay warm.

“A lot of people who are still on the street do not feel safe in traditional shelter systems, and do not fit into traditional shelter systems for a variety of reasons," Adler said.

She said that mental health issues and health concerns due to COVID keep people away from shelters.

Currently, people in need of emergency housing are encouraged to contact 211 to be placed in a shelter or hotel. Adler said the hotels the county provides are outside Rochester city limits, making it difficult for people to access services.

RAW, Rochester Homeless union and several other organizations raised nearly $8,000 to place 30 people in hotels ahead of Monday’s snowstorm. Adler said the Civic Center garage was among several places they began their outreach.

Adler said they’ve been working with the county to continue paying for rooms for some people, but about half will be on the street by the end of this week.

The county reports they currently have placed a total of 70 people in safer housing with support services.

Adler said Rochester Homeless Union has been in conversations with other stakeholders about a long-term solution for the homeless staying in the Civic Center, but they don’t have any answers right now.