Thursday, 20 April 2023 14:23

Code Blue to Close April 30, Williams Street Venue Vacant This Summer, Homelessness Task Force Recommendations Anticipated in July

Final clean-up at Saratoga Code Blue emergency homeless shelter on Adelphi Street, April 2023. Photo by Thomas Dimopoulos. Final clean-up at Saratoga Code Blue emergency homeless shelter on Adelphi Street, April 2023. Photo by Thomas Dimopoulos.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The building is mostly vacant now on Adelphi Street.  Gone are those who sought sanctuary from the elements of winter as well as those who committed their time and efforts to provide care at the space that has served as a Code Blue emergency homeless shelter. The tally for the November to April season: 160 nights open, 6,800 meals served.

The Code Blue shelter – which opens when the temperature dips below 32 degrees Fahrenheit – has most recently been located just off South Broadway as a 61-bed facility on Adelphi Street. On April 30, the current lease on the Adelphi Street space will expire - it is already listed with realtors as a commercial spot for lease - leaving the city, for the time being, without a venue to point to as a shelter for next winter’s season.     

Earlier this year, Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim initiated the formation of a Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness. The group is tasked with presenting a proposal for a shelter location to the council by early summer.   

“By our July 6 (council) meeting, we’re asking them to report back. I think they’re on schedule and should be able to complete their mission. I’ve been incredibly impressed by their discussions. They’ve been thoughtful, thought-provoking and also respectful. They’ve sort of come to the conclusion that we need a 24-hour shelter,” said city Mayor Ron Kim. 

“By hook-or-crook we’re going to have to offer something. I hope we can move quickly, but that’s all about location and agency.  What I think the Homelessness Task Force will be able to do is give is responses to the three questions we’ve asked: what do we need? Where could it be, and who will provide it?” Kim said.  “It’s going to then be up to the City Council when we get those recommendations in early July to move the ball forward. So, we’ll have our work cut out for us.” 

Since late 2013, St. Peter’s Parish Center, the Salvation Army building, the Soul Saving Station Church and the “overflow” Presbyterian New England Congregational Church have all served as a regional emergency winter shelter at one time or another. Adelphi Street was first activated in 2020. All have been on a temporary basis. Each time a permanent venue was thought to be found, loud opposition from those with interests near the proposed siting spot has negated its coming to fruition. 

The most recent future-looking plans eyed a permanent 24/7 year-round shelter at the soon-to-be-vacated Senior Center on Williams Street. Last October, the City Council unanimously approved a resolution in favor of the project at the Williams Street property which the city owns. Shortly afterwards, however, some public opposition was raised and Shelters of Saratoga - which co-operates the Code Blue shelter with Saratoga County and The NYS Office of Temporary Disability and Assistance - announced it was canceling its plans to site a permanent center on Williams Street.   

The building continues to serve as the Saratoga Senior Center for now. Relocation will occur when a new senior center structure on West Avenue becomes operational this summer, Saratoga Senior Center Executive Director Lois Celeste said. 

There has been no determination yet made about what may become of the city owned site on Williams Street when it becomes vacant.

“There are no plans whatsoever,” said Mayor Kim, adding that plans to site a shelter there are not completely off the table. “On the other hand, if the (Homelessness) Task Force sees another possibility, it could be something that we use to rent, for other purposes. Another possibility is that it could help us fund something in another location. So, nothing is firm about that. But in July that will be a major thing for the City Council to address once we get the recommendations.” 

Discussions by the task force include whether an outside agency would be involved to provide services (such as Shelters of Saratoga had been in the past), the geographic area where a potential shelter would best be sited, whether it would have 24/7 capabilities, and specifics regarding whether the shelter be of a low-barrier status. The definition of a “low barrier shelter” and of a “navigation center” vary from state-to-state and having a “low barrier” points to things such as potentially eliminating curfews and not requiring background checks, sobriety or mandatory treatment.

“Those are open questions,” Kim said.  “That’s one of those things they’re still debating. One of the viewpoints is: maybe we should have an aspiration goal of low-barrier with the very particular details of that left to an agency. On the other hand, some have said maybe we should do more of the defining. So, I don’t think they’ve reached that (consensus) yet,” Kim said. 

Kim said he would prefer siting a permanent shelter rather than continuing along the path of having a series of temporary rentals as has been the case for nearly a decade. “I think we need to do this, but I don’t know in the end where it will land.” 

Funding is also a key piece. 

“The funding comes through the state and passes through the county, so the county has a huge funding role in this,” Kim said. “The county, I hope and expect, will play a huge role in this; it’s more of a partnership because the city has become the central place where you need a homeless shelter. I don’t know of any other parts of Saratoga County where this has become a huge need.”   

In July 2022, the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors approved an agreement for the short-term lease – at $8,000 per month - of the Adelphi Street venue to be used as a “Code Blue” emergency homeless shelter thru April 30, 2023. 

“The county has not been presented yet with any plans to-date for a year-round shelter,” Saratoga County Board of Supervisors Chair Theodore Kusnierz said when asked about the future status of a shelter in Saratoga Springs.  “We will entertain any proposal that is provided to us.” 

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