SARATOGA SPRINGS — City Mayor Ron Kim announced a comprehensive initiative this week to address the city’s homelessness. The plan would site a permanent 24/7 year-round shelter at the soon-to-be-vacated Senior Center on Williams Street and may potentially add a second building to house people transitioning through a continuum of care.
It is a plan city and county officials began discussing earlier this year. The search for a permanent shelter site has been ongoing for nearly a decade.
Plans call for the development of a permanent low barrier shelter and navigation center in early 2023. The location is the longtime home of the Saratoga Senior Center, a structure developed by the city on city-owned property in the 1970s. The Senior Center is relocating to 290 West Ave.
The hope is that when it becomes fully operational, that permanently sited “Code Blue” shelter could extend its operations to 24/7 year-round. The city expressed interest in also pursuing the possibility of adding about 40 affordable housing apartments in an adjacent space on the parcel that would assist residents in their transitioning process - a continuum of care with the ultimate goal of helping people move from homelessness to sustained housing on their own.
The specific definition of a “low barrier shelter” and of a “navigation center” vary from state-to-state.
Recent legislation in California details “navigation centers” as providing temporary room and board while case managers work to connect homeless individuals and families to income, public benefits, health services and permanent housing or other shelter.
Meanwhile, having a “low barrier” points to things such as eliminating curfews and not requiring background checks, sobriety or mandatory treatment. It is not clear at this time whether any of these points would be put in effect in Saratoga Springs.
Rules and restrictions common to shelters - such as those barriers to entry - can make shelter services inaccessible to those in need by keeping vulnerable individuals and families from accessing the shelters, according to a 45-page report published by Seattle University School of Law in 2016 entitled “Shut Out: How Barriers Often Prevent Meaningful Access to Emergency Shelter.”
“In small communities or communities with few shelter options, no tolerance policies effectively keep those struggling with substance abuse outside,” according to the report.
On the financing side, Ed and Lisa Mitzen have pledged to pay the costs to revamp 5 Williams St. so that it can serve the needs of the homeless population; William Dake of Stewart’s Stores donated $3 million dollars to support the construction of the senior citizens’ new home in conjunction with the rehabilitation and expansion of the Saratoga YMCA. That relocation is anticipated to take place in early 2023, freeing up the current Senior Center space.
“Code Blue” shelter and shelter services are provided to the homeless community whenever inclement winter weather temperatures are at or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, inclusive of National Weather Service calculations for windchill. The current lease for the temporary Code Blue shelter on Adelphi Street runs through April 30, 2023 at a cost of $8,000 per month. The city is looking to work with the county to come up with about $65,000 to extend the current emergency shelter hours and season on Adelphi Street.
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 in Saratoga Springs that Christmas Eve at St. Peter’s Parish Center. A series of temporary winter shelters sited at a variety of venues across town followed: the Salvation Army building west of Broadway, Soul Saving Station Church east of Broadway, and the building at 4 Adelphi St., among them.
A permanent shelter site was thought to be secured in 2017 after local business owner Ed Mitzen offered to pay the costs of a new Code Blue homeless shelter to be built on Shelters of Saratoga property on Walworth Street. Initial plans call for a two-story building with a large kitchen, laundry room, men’s and women’s sleeping rooms, multiple showers and bathrooms, a large storage area for donated food and clothing, and a small Code Blue office. Local firms Bonacio Construction and the LA Group were to be involved in the development of the building and both agreed to forego any profits to keep the costs as low as possible.
Those plans were scrapped, 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 subsequently nullified approvals granted by the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals and the Planning Board which would have allowed the shelter to be built.
Correction: Note, the initial posting of this story mis-identified the explored location of the shelter as being east of Broadway. The potential location is on the West side of Broadway. The headline has been corrected and its author - who has, for some unknown reason, endured a lifelong struggle of discerning "east" from "west" - regrets the error. - TD