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Feature: Homeless on the Hudson 

The local subculture of people without fixed addresses is on the rise - including a surprising number of families & working people.

These are their stories.

When it comes to finding a place to live in the Hudson Valley, Barbara McClinton has seen it all. For the past two years, she has been working for the Kingston-based People, Inc., a nonprofit human services agency dedicated to helping people with disabilities lead productive lives. When the 41-year-old McClinton isn't helping people track down affordable housing, she is tracking down the homeless themselves, scouting for people beneath bridges and overpasses, among rural campgrounds and along country roads, and even under the stairs of large buildings on Broadway. Although McClinton's job is to talk directly to the homeless and act as a liaison with social services agencies, she frequently finds people who prefer to "live outside the system." When she finds evidence of squatters, she generally leaves notes informing them of available social services and "letting them know that we're not the police, so we're not mandated to report on them." But frequently, McClinton also drops off care packages containing "sandwiches, meat, diapers, soap, my baby's old blankets, whatever they need" - often at her own expense, despite her own financial problems. Barbara McClinton has experienced firsthand many of the problems her clients face. "I advocate on the part of people who fall through the cracks," she says. "I've met a lot of people like myself that I advocate for."

For 16 years McClinton held a career as a licensed practical nurse until she "bottomed out" with alcoholism. Now sober for seven years and still undergoing psychotherapy at Ulster County Mental Health Association, McClinton spent about five years doing unskilled work while in recovery before finding a full-time job at People, Inc. Although she occasionally qualifies for food stamps, McClinton mainly relies on child support, day care subsidy, and her own earnings to support her family. She is the divorced single parent of two sons, aged 21 and 18, and two daughters, now 19 and two, as well as grandmother to two children. One of her sons is disabled and receives SSI (Social Security Income); the other has a criminal record. McClinton has also been helping her oldest daughter raise her own two children, ages three and eight months, but supports her daughter's wish to find her own apartment and establish her own family.

While she was married McClinton owned her own home; since then the security of having a permanent residence has mostly eluded her, partly because she insists on keeping her family intact despite the fact that three-bedroom apartments and landlords willing to take on large families are difficult to find. While bouncing around between apartments, she and her family once spent three months living in the "homeless hotel," Family of Woodstock's Family Inn (formerly the King's Inn, on Broadway in Kingston), but three years ago, things began to look up when McClinton received Section 8 rental subsidy after five years on the waiting list. Then, last June, McClinton's family was evicted from their apartment on Cedar Street after the rental subsidy decreased suddenly when her oldest daughter found her first job. When the landlord demanded the difference immediately McClinton won a temporary stay, but the landlord managed to get the judge to sign an eviction warrant even before the stay was over. With an eviction notice now part of her background check, along with a judgment against her for $3,000 from 17 years ago, only two of the landlords for the 24 apartments McClinton visited would agree to rent to her.

Barbara McClinton surveys evidence of homelessness beneath a Kingston overpass.

Rather than resort to returning to the Family Inn, McClinton now pays $1,200 a month for her family to live in what she says is a flea-ridden, roach-infested three-bedroom apartment on Hudson Street. "It happens to be in a drug-infested neighborhood," she says, "but it's a home." A member of Rural Ulster Preservation Company's (RUPCO) First Homebuyers' Club, McClinton says she has completed the program's eight-month course, but is unable to complete the program's second requirement of becoming credit worthy. In fact, she says she is in such dire straits financially that she is preparing to file bankruptcy, which will mean renting for an additional two to three years before she can qualify again to buy a house.

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