Thursday, 26 January 2023 14:04

Permanent Homeless Shelter: Problem Solved, Problems Arise

The Saratoga Senior Center on Williams Street in Saratoga Springs, on Jan. 25, 2023. The site is proposed to house a permanent 24/7 year-round shelter, tentatively slated to open in the late spring. A meeting will take place Monday at Saratoga Central Catholic School.  Photo by Thomas Dimopoulos. The Saratoga Senior Center on Williams Street in Saratoga Springs, on Jan. 25, 2023. The site is proposed to house a permanent 24/7 year-round shelter, tentatively slated to open in the late spring. A meeting will take place Monday at Saratoga Central Catholic School. Photo by Thomas Dimopoulos.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Plans are underway to site a permanent 24/7 year-round county shelter at the soon-to-be-vacated Senior Center on Williams Street. 

City Mayor Ron Kim originally announced the comprehensive initiative to address the city’s homelessness last October, and the City Council unanimously approved a resolution in favor of the project. 

The location is the longtime home of the Saratoga Senior Center, and is a structure developed by the city on city-owned property in the 1970s. The timeline of the shelter’s opening is tentatively slated for late spring, and is dependent on the components of the existing Senior Center relocating to a new venue at the Saratoga Springs YMCA property at 290 West Ave. 

The search for a permanent shelter site has been ongoing for nearly a decade. The Williams Street plan is something city officials and Saratoga County officials began discussing early in 2022. The current lease for the temporary Code Blue shelter on Adelphi Street runs through April 30 at a cost of $8,000 per month. The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors approved the short-term lease arrangement last July, during which board members also expressed a desire to seek a county location that could be used on a permanent basis following the expiration of the lease.

The city resolution approved in October calls for the development of “a state-mandated Code Blue Shelter, a navigation center, and a full-time low-threshold shelter on the property.” 

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. 

The Dilemma

Some members of the nearby Saratoga Central Catholic School have expressed concern regarding the siting of a “low barrier” shelter in close proximity to children. The topic “caused an uproar” when it came up for discussion during a general meeting last week staged by the Saratoga Central Catholic Security Committee. 

“As a committee, we have been talking about the homeless shelter on-and-off for a little while,” said committee member Kevin Zacharewicz. “We’re religious people, we’re Catholic people, so we’re not against the homeless shelter; we’re just against the location of the homeless shelter. We don’t feel that it should be basically touching the property, or be near our kids, our school,” he said. 

The group met with Shelters of Saratoga Executive Director Duane J. Vaughn on Dec. 20, Zacharewicz said. “We talked about that it would be between basically 40 people on the average a night in the summertime, and 60 people an average a night in the wintertime. … We talked about if he does any background checks on his clients, the homeless. He kind of said no.

“We have to help these people out. We get that,” Zacharewicz said. “We understand all this, but again, the location is just not the right mix, and it caused an uproar, obviously, at the school meeting.” A meeting regarding the matter is scheduled to take place at 5 p.m. Monday, Jan. 30 in the school gymnasium. 

City Mayor Ron Kim said this week that discussions with local school and church officials are ongoing and that the city is cognizant of mitigating any impact the center may have on them, and how that materializes is a matter to be decided with future conversations.    

Dr. Giovanni Virgiglio, Superintendent of Schools, Diocese of Albany, shared his comments via a statement on Jan. 27. :

"We always place priority on the safety and well-being of our students and the entire school community and that is very much the case in this situation," Virgiglio said.  "At the same time, care and concern for the most vulnerable among us is a cornerstone of what we believe and teach as a Church. We need to get a true understanding of the city’s plan before drawing any conclusions and determining the best course of action. To that end, the principal, members of the school board, and I will meet with Mayor Ron Kim so we can learn more about the city’s proposed shelter. Following that meeting, we will share the information with our school families so we can make an informed decision about what our next steps will be."

“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. 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 have followed. 

In addition to becoming a permanently sited 24/7 “Code Blue” shelter, the city had expressed some 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.        

(Reporter Dylan McGlynn contributed to this report.)

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