While it doesn’t resolve a serious issue afflicting this region, the reopening of an apartment complex in Watertown demonstrates the progress that’s being made on widespread homelessness.
The residential structure at 661 Factory St. closed in August 2021 when city authorities found some code violations. The building’s fire alarm system wasn’t working properly, and other sanitary and structural issues were cited. The Code Enforcement Department condemned the 25-unit complex, leaving dozens without shelter.
The 661 Factory Street Inn & Lodging served as one of the few places in the area where people of limited financial means could live. In addition, government agencies regularly used the apartment complex to provide temporary shelter for individuals requiring social services.
The previous closure of similar structures exacerbated the housing issue. Fire destroyed the Rainbow Motel in Pamelia in November 2020. And other residential complexes in Watertown have shuttered due to various problems.
Residents of the 661 Factory Street Inn & Lodging began camping outside the building in tents when it closed. This attracted other people experiencing housing insecurity, exposing an often-ignored dilemma.
Representatives of several government agencies and social service groups formed a committee to study the issue of homelessness in the area. They correctly understood that the problem was larger than many people realized.
Bitter cold and snow this winter made the situation much worse. People had previously begun sleeping at the Joseph M. Butler Sr. Pavilion in the JB Wise parking lot for shelter. Tarps were used at the facility to shield them from the cold, but this provided minimal protection for them.
Jefferson County authorities worked with developer P.J. Simao to create a temporary facility at his DealMaker Auto Group body shop on Main Avenue. Simao paid for work to make the building usable for these people.
The shelter closed last month. Thankfully, longer-term options for homeless individuals have been identified.
And this week, residents moved into the building at 661 Factory St. when it reopened. Owner Linda Mercer invested at least $30,000 into the structure to make it suitable for tenants.
The Jefferson County Department of Social Services will occupy an office on the first floor of the apartment complex. This will allow representatives to keep a closer eye on the building and address problems as they occur.
DSS also decided to use space in an apartment building on High Street that ran into similar issues. These are wise moves on the part of the county; they will lessen the likelihood that mounting problems force the structures to close.
We commend all those who have been involved in addressing this crisis. Jefferson County agencies worked well with social service organizations to look at how to reduce homelessness in the area and help people find housing.
On this page, we urged Watertown to join this effort. To his credit, City Council member Clifford G. Onley III has been a strong advocate for those affected by the closing of these buildings. He enlisted the help of former city Code Enforcement Officer Todd DeMar to prepare the 661 Factory St. complex to reopen.
Homelessness remains a serious problem in our area. But we have signs that the issue is being addressed incrementally. This is a positive development, and we encourage officials to continue their work.
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