SARATOGA SPRINGS - City Republican mayoral candidate Mark Baker released a statement Monday in advance of tonight’s Zoning Board of Appeals meeting (7 p.m. at City Hall) where a discussion will be held regarding the proposed 61-bed homeless shelter on the city's west side.
In the statement, Baker says the current proposal “is not sufficient” in serving the homeless, and that “it does not adequately respect our neighborhoods and current residents,” suggesting that a city shelter may bring in more people in need from outside the community.
“As a community we have a moral obligation and responsibility to show compassion and to be responsive to those already in our city who are in need and homeless,” says Baker, adding the shelter “may in fact create an even greater need, by attracting additional folks in need to the community versus Saratoga Springs embracing those who are in the city already needing a helping hand.”
While no alternative plan is offered, Baker says, “I am personally committed to finding a solution to this issue.”
Current Democrat Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen, who is not running for re-election, issued a response to Baker’s statements late Monday, which read, in part: “Mr. Baker's accusation that the Mayor's office, along with the many volunteers who have helped and donated to Code Blue since I have taken office, have somehow contributed to the homeless problem is misinformed, uncompassionate, and just plain mean spirited.”
Baker's statement, in its entirety, immediately follows. Yepsen's statement, in its entirety, follows below.
Candidate Mark Baker:
“I trust and expect the Saratoga Springs Zoning Broad will be realistic and objective when they evaluate the merits and challenges of approving a "Code Blue" facility in the heart of one of Saratoga Springs’ historic and most densely populated residential areas.
“As a community we have a moral obligation and responsibility to show compassion and to be responsive to those already in our city who are in need and homeless, especially children. I am personally committed to finding a solution to this issue that is sensitive to those in need but is also responsible to our neighborhoods, schools and residents.
“The first step in finding a resolution and mutually acceptable solution is for city leaders, particularly the mayor, to listen and gather public input and guidance.
“The current proposal before the Zoning Board is not sufficient in how it will serve the homeless and it does not adequately respect our neighborhoods and current residents. A better solution needs to be investigated.
“It may, in fact, create an even greater need, by attracting additional folks in need to the community versus Saratoga Springs embracing those who are in the city already needing a helping hand.
“The past approach to these pressing questions and lack of public input, planning and thoughtfulness from the mayor’s office has led to real community problems of vagrancy, aggressive panhandling and encouraging the presence of homeless individuals downtown. In a tourist destination city, with a vibrant downtown residential community, these are problems for tourism, downtown business and public safety management of our community.
“The goal is to be responsive and compassionate to those who are homeless. The solution needs to be respectful and realistic. The current Zoning Board proposal is not the ‘best practice’ approach to addressing the question of how to help people to find shelter.”
Mayor Joanne Yepsen:
"Immediately after Nancy Pitts died on the winter streets of Saratoga Springs in December 2013 and before I was even sworn in as Mayor, I established Code Blue Saratoga with the help of many non-profits in our City stating, never would we allow anyone to die on the streets of Saratoga Springs due to exposure, under my administration. Since then, we have ended Veterans Homelessness with permanent housing and we are offering emergency shelter under the Code Blue Program. 95 % of Code Blue Saratoga guests are Saratogians. They are homeless, and in our community already and many are just temporarily down on their luck and need a helping hand. Not only does Code Blue save lives, but the guests are also receiving much needed support and services that they might not get otherwise. In fact, the Code Blue program is so successful that over 1/3 of all guests over the past few years have "graduated" and no longer need the emergency shelter.
“Since taking office, the Mayor's office has collaborated with the Chamber of Commerce, Shelters of Saratoga, neighborhoods, non-profits, places of worship, attended community meetings, and hosted countless meetings in my office with all who wanted to meet, discuss options, and help contribute to the solution. We even started a Code Blue Steering Committee made up of the community to work with me and Shelters throughout the program's existence. Wellspring, Giving Circle, Captain, Community Healthcare, Catholic Charities, EOC are all on board and have been involved since the beginning. This is a community collaboration.
“Since that snowy Christmas Eve in 2013 when we first opened our doors, a volunteer program organically developed of hundreds of caring and generous individuals and now have the added generosity of Ed and Lisa Mitzen. The leadership of Code Blue Saratoga is well-established and under the highly regarded and successful non-profit Shelters of Saratoga, which offered to oversee a solution to keep people from living off the streets, otherwise it's back on the streets for homeless.
“After much input, debate, and conversations, the question becomes very simple: "What kind of community do we want to be?" Do we want to be the kind of City that allows our most disadvantaged people to die on the streets? Or do we want to be the kind of City who come together, who collectively advocate and fund raise, who strategize and think through together as a community how to best approach our homeless issue both in the short term as well as the long term.
“Mr. Baker's accusation that the Mayor's office, along with the many volunteers who have helped and donated to Code Blue since I have taken office, have somehow contributed to the homeless problem is misinformed, uncompassionate, and just plain mean spirited. Based on Mark Baker's naive position, many will guess he's never attended a Code Blue Steering Committee meeting or volunteered in the shelter, as so many Saratogians have done. I would guess the question on many readers minds would be what has he done in the last four years to offer a solution or be a part of the conversation? He really ought to be ashamed of himself. I understand he is operating in campaign mode, we are trying to save lives here."