Police bodycam video shows living conditions under Clemens bridge

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18 News is investigating how a nationwide rise in homelessness is being felt in our area. Newly obtained bodycam footage from Elmira Police shows the living conditions in a homeless encampment under the southern end of the Clemens Center Parkway Bridge. 18 News asked police to perform a wellness check after a volunteer who helps feed the homeless entered the encampment last week. The volunteer then told 18 News he saw a pregnant teenager who appeared to be unconscious and suffering from drug withdrawals.

The video shows the officer checking every living space. He encountered a man who said he was there with his girlfriend. The woman denied being pregnant and was alert and talking. The officer says he did not see any other females there at the time.

Volunteers told 18 News there are at least 10 other homeless encampments in the Elmira area. We checked under a bridge near the entrance to the Lackawanna Rail Trail off East Water Street. A man who said he was camping, they said there were about a dozen people who also live there. We then checked an underpass next to a dollar tree on the Southside. There was nobody there at the time, but you could see items left behind. We were also told there was a homeless encampment behind the Tops Supermarket on Cedar Street in Southport. I didn’t find anyone there. What I did see was nearly two dozen ‘no trespassing’ signs pinned to trees saying it was private property.

“Have I seen it get worse? Yea, I think I have. It’s not just the city of Elmira, if you look around the country, it’s an epidemic,” said Elmira Mayor Dan Mandell. “We’re doing quite a bit, everything we can within the scope of the law. What we’ve been doing is we work with Catholic Charities that help these people get housing. They come to us saying that they need housing, we give them to Catholic Charities who right now I believe is housing these individuals in hotels in the Elmira area until these people can find permanent housing, get their feet back on the ground. We also work with the Economic Opportunity Program. We did an anti-displacement grant back in 2020. Furthermore, we received $1 million to help people that may be losing their homes, to get them housing, and that was very successful.”

“You have these other groups of people that live under the bridge that just don’t want any help. A lot of them have drug and alcohol problems. They have mental health problems. A lot of people are addicted to fentanyl and opiates, and a lot of that is contributing to this homeless population. You can’t force them into housing. You can’t force them into treatment. A lot of people are addicted to fentanyl and opiates, and a lot of that is contributing to this homeless population. We can’t give up, okay, we have to continue because it becomes a quality-of-life issue for our residents.”

Nancy Koons, the Executive Director of Catholic Charities, told 18 news there are currently 170 people being housed by its shelter program, at about half-a-dozen motels across Elmira. Koons says there are requirements to check in with a case manager at least once a week, to work towards finding employment and permanent housing.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness, a non-profit that analyzes data from the U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Developmnent, says at any given point, there are more than 74,000 homeless people in New York State. That’s an increase of 18% since 2007. The group says the sheltered population rose by 22%. The unsheltered population declined by 24%.

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