Friday, 10 January 2020 14:36

Code Blue: A Community Comes Together

SARATOGA SPRINGS –  It’s been a long and winding road to Adelphi Street since a community of residents, clergy, business leaders, politicians and everyday folks first came together to create a space where people without a home can find shelter during frigid nights, get fed a warm meal, recharge their bodies and head back out into the light of the next day to try and secure a more stable standing.

Motivated to action in the wake of the death of a city woman exposed to a winter’s elements on a December night in 2013, a temporary homeless emergency shelter was launched that Christmas Eve at St. Peter’s Parish Center.

A series of temporary winter shelters, sited at a variety of venues across town, have followed: the Salvation Army building west of Broadway and Soul Saving Station Church east of Broadway, among them. The latter, having a 41-bed capacity, required the addition of the Presbyterian New England Congregational Church also open for extended periods to care for the “overflow” of guests.

Last month, Shelters of Saratoga - which oversees the Code Blue shelter program – opened the latest temporary venue at 4 Adelphi St., just west of South Broadway. In 2016, an executive order issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo directs emergency shelters to operate when temperatures drop below 32 degrees.

Many hands were needed to transform a previously vacant Adelphi Street warehouse into a suitable shelter space in time for the winter season.   

“On behalf of Shelters of Saratoga, I extend my heartfelt appreciation to the incredible generosity of all the businesses that helped bring Code Blue to Adelphi Street a reality,” said S.O.S. Executive Director Karen Gregory.

The locally based Bonacio Construction firm led the way, transforming the 4,000 square-foot of industrial space into accommodations for people during cold temperatures, at cost. The work included fitting up the existing building with new electrical, HVAC, and plumbing, painting floors, adding bathrooms with showers, and donating shelving.

“We worked hard to get this project on schedule after running into asbestos in the building in November,” Bonacio says. “After working through the weekends, we were able to make up valuable time and got them up and running for opening on December 9.”

“We’re very grateful to them for completing the project at cost, foregoing profit and being very generous with their expertise,” Gregory said.

During the 2017-18 winter season – the latest figures available - Code Blue was open 162 nights, served more than 8,000 meals, and provided sleeping quarters for a total of 6,480 overnight stays – or on average, 40 nightly guests.

The new location houses a 61-bed facility – many more than in previous locations - and as such, Gregory said an “overflow” shelter is not anticipated at this time.  “I think the new location is working well. We’re working with people to get them to and from different appointments they need to be at. We’re in Saratoga Springs, so realistically anywhere in the city would have worked well,” she added. 

The lease on the new location runs until November 2021. An entirely new staff and leadership has been hired providing more people than in years past working each shift, and just over 107 new volunteers have also been added this year, pointed out Gregory, who said the search for a location to host a permanent site continues. “That’s something I’m truly committed to and is something in the conversation and on my agenda every single day. Two years is going to go by quickly, so we can’t take our eye off of that. That has to be a priority on my agenda, the city’s agenda, and hopefully the county’s agenda as well,” Gregory said. 

Finding a permanent shelter location has proved to be a challenge.  A permanent shelter location was thought to be found in 2017 on Walworth Street, where a Code Blue structure would be built on property belonging to Shelters of Saratoga after local business owner Ed Mitzen, and his wife Lisa announced they would pay the costs for the new, permanent shelter to be built. In September 2018, however, following a lawsuit filed by local residents challenging the proposed shelter expansion as not being in accordance with zoning regulation, a Saratoga County Supreme Court judge nullified previously granted approvals by the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals and the Planning Board which would have allowed the shelter to be built.

Regarding the new temporary spot, the city of Saratoga Springs provided $50,000 towards the upkeep of the building as well as for paying rent in the off-season for the next two years, as well as supporting the S.O.S. outreach program.

As far as need, Gregory says the best way for people to help is to make donations directly to Shelters of Saratoga to aid in the continuation of the organization’s providing of services.

“We haven’t been reimbursed by the county or the state at all yet, so we’re carrying this tremendous financial responsibility forward,” Gregory said. “We’re not exactly sure what the county and state are going to reimburse us for and there’s always a risk of the unknown.  That makes it difficult on a small non-profit like us because we can’t afford to incur those expenses and not get reimbursed, obviously. In the interim, we have applied and been approved for a bridge loan for $200,000 by a non-profit bank just in case reimbursement continues to be prolonged. At least that would not put the agency in a tough spot and cover some of the costs, until we get some kind of reimbursement.”

Finding a long-term solution to address the city’s homelessness issue – specifically including a permanent Code Blue facility - is listed among the city’s outlook of priorities in 2020. 

“I’m so thankful to be working in this incredibly generous community - the amount of expertise and support and humanity - just coming together when there are needs and putting people first,” said Gregory, who was named executive director of S.O.S. last year.  “We really do care about our homeless neighbors, keeping them safe, and I’m very appreciate of having a community that’s so behind S.O.S. It’s been a wonderful experience so far.” 

Statement from Bonacio Construction Inc.: The temporary Code Blue shelter in Downtown Saratoga Springs required transforming this 4,000 square foot industrial space into accommodations for people during the cold temperatures. Thank you to our incredible team of local businesses who helped out on this project: Allerdice ACE Hardware for donating materials. B&B Plumbing & Heating for donating both its plumbing and HVAC services. CT Mail for providing its air monitoring services during asbestos removal at a discount. Kyle Fillion of Evolve IT for donating his services for video conferencing. Granite & Marble Works, Inc. for donating granite countertops. NRC NY Environmental for working on the asbestos abatement at a discount. Prediletto Electric for donating its time and supplies. Tom Roohan of Roohan Realty for donating the showers. Stone Industries for providing its services. Thermally Yours, Inc. for installing the insulation. Tuff Kote Flooring LLC for installing the epoxy flooring at half price. Winsupply of Saratoga Springs & Bath Expressions Showroom for donating the plumbing fixtures. Project Manager: James Ackerman.


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