Two violent deaths in two weeks prompt new worries about chronically homeless

42 year old Michelle Noce was found unconscious where she lived, under the 690 ramp at Herald Place. It's the second violent death in two weeks, of chronically homeless in Syracuse

The deaths of Michelle Noce from a head injury on Saturday and Timothy Wilkin who burned to death last weekend have those who watch over the chronic homeless reviewing their policies.

Michelle Noce, 42, was found unconscious at her 'home' under an I-690 ramp near Herald Place in Syracuse. Police suspect she was in a fight that afternoon over panhandling at a busy corner. They say she died of a head injury, but are calling it suspicious. They are not calling it a homicide since they're still investigating the circumstances.

Babette Baker, the Syracuse representative to Onondaga County's Housing & Homeless Coalition, says Noce "actually made a call to our shelter services in late August, and we had a room for her, and she never showed up, because you can't make people show up."

41-year-old Timothy Wilkin's death has been ruled accidental. Police say there were no signs of accelerants found in the fire that killed him and they don't plan to re-open the case, though some are speculating that the two deaths may be related.

In the city of Syracuse, services are offered to an average 423 homeless a night. Most will take food, or blankets, but don't want to go into housing.

"Some because of addictions, some because of mental health, some because of the guidelines that we have in the shelter" says Liddy Hintz, who directs emergency and child welfare services for Syracuse's Salvation Army.

The first thing Hintz does when she gets to work every day is to check her computer for updates on how many homeless are in area shelters, which are run by several agencies in Onondaga County.

This year, there's been an increase across the board. More men, more women, and more family members are in emergency housing. That includes hotels, where homeless are put as a last resort because they don't have easy access to support services there.

Social Services has a 24-hour number to get help: 435-8300.

The big concern is the safety of the chronically homeless who are not reaching out for help. The concern is not just for their safety, but also for how they impact the rest of the community, especially when they're in high visibility areas such as along Syracuse's Creekwalk. People who bike, walk and run there, shared some of their concerns with us.

"He sits up there and screams and hollers," says Greg Harrington, who rides the creekside pathway. "That's why I made the complaints. We got people coming through here everyday. Some from out of the city. It makes us look bad as the city of Syracuse."

There are plans for helping the homeless. The Salvation Army has just expanded its emergency shelter, though it remains at capacity. Catholic Charities is about to open 35 new apartments, with priority to the chronically homeless. The Housing & Homeless Coalition is about to roll out its 10 year plan to end homelessness in Onondaga County.

Despite the services and plans, it comes down to getting the chronically homeless to make up their minds.

"The Michelles that are out there, come on in," says Hintz. "Even if you have to be in a chair or in a hotel for a short time until a shelter opens up, it's safer than being out on the street."