SARATOGA SPRINGS – A new homeless shelter opened on Adelphi Street this week, the first low barrier facility in Saratoga Springs to be open year-round.
The shelter will operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and house 30 beds. Monday, June 12 marked the first day of operation. It was filled to capacity.
“It’s been calm,” Sybil Newell said Tuesday. Newell is the executive director of RISE Housing and Support Services – the agency operating the shelter. “We have some people staying here who go to work, so we had a handful of folks who got up this morning, had breakfast, and went to work.”
The shelter is located just west of South Broadway - in close proximity to the Saratoga County Mental Health Clinic building on South Broadway, and RISE’s main office on Union Street - and since 2020 operated seasonally on an emergency basis as a cold-weather “Code Blue” winter venue.
The new shelter involved a public-private partnership and the collaborative effort of many hands that saw to its fruition.
On June 9, the City Council staged a Special Meeting during which it unanimously approved an agreement with RISE to operate the shelter. The agency was the sole bidder for the project during the RFP process. The contract calls for the city to pay just under $240,000 for RISE to hire, train and staff the program, as well as maintain the facility through the balance of the 2023 calendar year.
Local developer Sonny Bonacio secured a five-year lease on the property, renovated the building, and is providing it rent free to RISE until 2025.
“We have a sublease with him for the next two years,” Newell said. “They [Bonacio Construction] also installed the fence and installed the air conditioning. They got us the laundry machines, built the staff office,” she said. Interior couches and the tables came from Stephen Sullivan at Longfellows. The Corinth Central School District donated 32 numbered lockers. Metal detectors are stationed at the entryway.
“We also had a private donor, who wants to remain anonymous, who bought all the beds. The outpouring of donations that has come from people has really helped us,” Newell said. The shelter offers breakfast, lunch and dinner and privacy fencing circling the exterior of the property bookends a collection of chairs and canopies.
In recent years, the city’s parking garage on Woodlawn Avenue has been pointed to as a central location where those lacking housing have congregated for extended periods of time. The hope is providing ample space, meals and beds at the 24/7 shelter location will help deliver people congregating at the parking garage and elsewhere to the Adelphi Street venue.
“The program will be low-barrier, which means that anyone is welcome and they are not required to participate in case management or any other services,” Newell said, adding that advocacy services will be available on-site for anyone seeking to use those services.
Former city mayor Meg Kelly says the idea was born while brainstorming ideas with Sonny Bonacio earlier this spring.
“The people who were really at the core of this are Sonny, myself, Sybil and (Rise Associate Executive Director) Lindsey Connors,” said Kelly, who is president of the Bonacio company West Side Management of Saratoga. “I said, let’s see if we take the Code Blue shelter and make it a year-round shelter. I talked to the owner of the property, and he said he had somebody else that wanted to rent it, so Sonny outbid him.
“I think the building is so nice that people want to be there, and they’ll get healthier in a healthy environment,” Kelly said. “Some people say: ‘You need to just give them the bare minimum.’ Well, how did that work out with Code Blue? They shut the doors and they all go over to the garage.”
Sheltering Saratoga Began A Decade Ago
The Code Blue Saratoga program was born from the tragic death of Nancy Pitts. The 54-year-old mother of two sought shelter on a Williams Street porch during a frigid December night in 2013. She was discovered by police the next morning. Within days of the homeless woman’s death, a cooperative partnership between then mayor-elect Joanne Yepsen, non-profit organizations, and members of the community was initiated and a plan set in motion to site an emergency shelter in the city.
A series of cold-weather shelters have followed, each on a temporary winter-to-spring basis. Numerous plans to site a permanent shelter in the city have been rejected at every turn by those living close-by or with nearby interests.
Most recently, plans to site a permanent shelter at a city-owned building at 5 Williams St. were stunted after some members of the Saratoga Central Catholic School, which partially borders the proposed shelter, expressed opposition to the siting of a shelter in close proximity to the private school. Shelters of Saratoga – the organization involved in the operations of the Code Blue shelter as well as long-term shelter plans - subsequently announced that “after hearing the concerns of the community, we’ve decided not to move forward with a shelter at 5 Williams St.”
“I think this new temporary shelter that was passed is a step in the right direction for Saratoga,” says Chris Pitts, son of Nancy Pitts, adding he was disappointed the Williams Street idea was “kicked to the curb.”
“I think it was/is the correct place for the permanent shelter. It’s in a great location where a significant amount of homeless people are anyways. And it would probably help convince some people who are otherwise on the fence of seeking help if it were convenient like that,” Pitts said. “I think they need to get some kind of permanent shelter ASAP. This temporary stuff is probably frustrating for some people who may be looking for help.”
The recently created Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness is currently searching for a permanent site for a homeless shelter and navigation center and is expected to make its recommendations to the City Council in July. Any permanent site, however, may require new construction and take significant time to complete, which factored into the city’s recent actions to issue an RFP and award the bid to RISE to operate the shelter on Adelphi Street.
“This is not intended to replace Code Blue…this is meant to be a temporary program until the Task Force and the city, the county, or any other agency comes up with a more permanent solution,” RISE’s Sybill Newell said.
It is not at this point known the role the county will play in the shelter, financially or otherwise. City Mayor Ron Kim suggested this week that members of the council meet monthly with residents and businesses living and working in the immediate area of the shelter to discuss any issues that may arise and to plan mitigation strategies.
For more information about the new shelter, RISE Housing and Support Services or how to help, go to: riseservices.org.