ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) – In 2022, a government study counted close to 600,000 people were experiencing homelessness nationwide. That’s up from the same study done in 2020. Looking at the issue in Chemung County, the question remains, how did these people get here?

I first went to both the north and south side of the Clemens Center Bridge. Alexander Youngs has been living on the north side for the past three months, this after a series of personal losses. He says doesn’t need help. He’s doing this as part of a movement.

“I’m the type of person who prefers living outside. I like the outdoors. Being inside, my anxiety gets up there because I’m used to when I’m inside, I was used to having my uncle and my stepdad. somebody around to chill with. that was older and looked at me as their kid. some of us are literally doing this as a movement,” said Youngs.

He has income from building speakers and has the ability to work, minus a broken thumb. He relies on local food pantries for food and uses most of his income on one thing.

“I go down here to the local weed shop Tat Vibes and buy pre-rolls and get food, drinks and whatnot,” he said.

We spoke to Mayor Dan Mandell about the ongoing issue a few months ago. He says people like Youngs make combating the crisis difficult.

“You have these other groups of people that live under the bridge that just don’t want any help. That’s the problem, that seems to be the biggest problem. A lot of them we know have drug and alcohol problems,” said Mandell.

I also crossed the bridge to talk to those living on the south side, where we reported a police body cam video of the living conditions here in July. I could only go a few feet away before I was asked to leave by a man living there.

I then went to the north and south side of the Walnut Street Bridge, where a man was found dead in August. According to a police report, the man appeared to be living under the north side of the bridge. It appears that some activity is still going on under the north side of the bridge, with belongings scattered around. Nothing was found on the south side.

I also spoke with Chemung County Human Services Commissioner Brian Hart, who says the statistics show homelessness is up around 20 percent from last year. Approximately 230 people are in homeless housing services right now. 60 of those are children. These stats are based on people that want housing services. Those people are placed in hotels per state regulations.

“Because we currently don’t currently have a shelter that means they’re all in hotels either in the community or in neighboring communities based on what hotels are willing to work with us. We tend to work with approximately ten hotels locally and another 9 or 10 outside of Chemung County,” Hart said.

Kailey Schultz and her three children live in one of those hotels, the Coachman Motor Lodge on Elmira’s southside. They would be homeless if not for the hotel. But, this isn’t their first choice.

“If I had it my way, I would go back to how it was with my house. My kids had freedom, they were able to play, be kids. Here they can’t,” said Schultz.

She’s grateful for food pantries and churches for help in feeding and clothing her children.

“I have been walking around food pantries to try and get what these guys need. I’ll go and ask churches for help. The only reason why these guys are as dressed as well as they are due to the weather is because of the churches,” Schultz said.

We reached out to Catholic Charities to discuss its partnership with Human Services, but they declined our interview request.