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Sign on the Victory Transformation’s façade in Oswego. It’s the only state-certified facility for men for emergency housing in Oswego County. Homeless people can stay at the shelter up to 60 days or longer if needed.”

Victory Transformation: A Stepping Stone to Self Sufficiency

The temporary emergency shelter helps men find employment and permanent housing

By Stefan Yablonski

Mary Curcio is the executive director of Victory Transformation. “Our mission is a hand-up, not a handout,” she says.

From the outside, the cold stone façade resembles a church or even a castle. However, on the inside, a dozen men call it home.

Victory Transformation provides temporary emergency sheltering for men. It was incorporated in 2014.

It is located at 24 E. Oneida St. — “but we are a county facility,” Mary Curcio, executive director, said. “We provide emergency housing for men in Oswego County. We are the only state certified facility for men for emergency housing in the county.”

She said there is a need in Fulton — “That’s why I am reaching out to the new mayor. We want to work together to alleviate the problem there.”

Victory also provides the warming shelter for Oswego County. “The warming center is a separate facility, but it is under our umbrella,” Curcio said. “We are the only one for the county.”

Right now, they have one full-time paid staff and four part-time paid staff.

“There are various credentials to work here — prior experience as an advocate, training as a peer-advocate, counselor or job experience,” Curcio explained. “We train in-house on job expectations and more.”

They were at 94 E. Oneida St.

“We were in a house over there. This facility was a former adult home. It came up for auction and we were able to move in here. Right now, we can house 12 men,” she said.

The men’s bedrooms are upstairs; the staff offices, café and meeting rooms are on the main floor.

“This is the men’s shelter; this is where we manage everything. [Men] have to go to Department of Social Services and they have to prove that they are homeless. Then, DSS calls us. When they call us, we verify that we have a bed open,” Curcio explained. “This is a sober living facility; so if they aren’t sober we won’t take them. We provide 24-hour supervision.”

Victory Transformation also hosts bible studies and other support activities that help the men become employable and self-reliant, she added.

Space is an issue

“If we don’t have enough beds, we have had to turn people away. We always try to let DSS know how many beds we have [available] — so they are pretty careful not to ask us if we’re full,” she said. “There was a time awhile ago — there were only two beds available and three possible men. So they know; they check with us first. I know that we can use more beds.”

If Victory Transformation can’t take them, they go back to DSS and they try to find other solutions.

Since May 2023, they’ve had 41 men at the site. “I’d say since January, we’ve probably had 70 men,” Curcio added. “We are looking to add more beds. We need more beds.”

Before COVID-19, the original time to stay was around 40 days.

“Since COVID-19, housing has become very difficult,” she said. “It is taking much longer for our participants to find housing. Now they are staying up to 60 days or longer if needed.”

Not a handout

Corina Canfield, who is an advocate for the homeless at Victory Transformation, talks with a man who is a guest.

“Our mission is a hand-up, not a handout,” Curcio stressed. “We want them to be successful on their own.”

“We help the men get housing, get jobs,” she continued. “For substance abuse, we work with Farnham. We work with Catholic Charities — we partner with all the agencies that we can. It takes a whole team, right? If it takes a village to raise a child — it takes a whole community to help someone be successful. Our program helps support men trying to find housing and employment. We work with other agencies such as DSS, Bridge to Hope, Lakeview, Farnham, Catholic Charities, Second Chances and OCO.”

“Hopefully, we measure success by if they have gotten a job and kept that job and got an apartment and they stay sober,” she said. “If they can do all that and live on their own we count that as a success.”

It is pretty obvious that COVID-19, the opioid crisis and mental health issues have all exacerbated homelessness in the county, she added.

“I will say that housing is a big problem,” she said. “Some guys have gone in together on an apartment. Getting an apartment can be the toughest part — some places want references and a lot of the time, the men don’t have references.”

“Some of [the men] aren’t always successful,” she said. “There are guidelines, there has to be or else you have chaos,” she said.

“If they violate the substance abuse policy, they can get sanctioned by DSS. Sanction times from housing here come from DSS; they vary depending on the situation. That means they get no support for a certain number of days. So we work very hard with them to not do that. We help the men do whatever it takes to be successful,” she said.

They can come back after the sanction.

“We’ve taken men back. We’ve taken them back a couple of times because you want to give people a chance, a second chance to be successful.  If we can, we let them come back. Some times they learn from a mistake — it’s not a bad thing,” she said. “One of the guys came to us (the other day) and said, ‘Thank you so much for all you have done for me,’”

“We are a community — the men help take care of the facility,” Curcio continued. “The guys help clean, they’ll help in the café, they do yard work. They take care of each other and learn to become good neighbors to the neighborhood.”

Costs vary to run Victory, the executive director said.

“We have bills like most agencies, staff, heat, lights, mortgage and insurance. Funding to house the men here comes from DSS,” she said. “We also receive donations from individuals, churches and other agencies. We do fundraising — had an auction recently to generate funds. Fundraising is a large part of raising funds to keep the shelter open.”