Friday, 07 October 2016 10:40

Red Flags For Code Blue

SARATOGA SPRINGS — One week after Shelters of Saratoga announced an agreement to site the Code Blue Saratoga emergency shelter on Caroline and Henry streets, the 11th-hour solution has drawn the ire of some local residents and business owners who say they were not informed of the shelter’s relocation to the east side neighborhood and expressed concerns about potential safety issues.

After spending the past two winters at the Salvation Army building on Woodlawn Avenue, scheduling conflicts at the Salvation Army necessitated that Code Blue Saratoga find a new location to house its emergency shelter. More than two dozen potential venues were investigated before Soul Saving Station agreed to allow the shelter to operate at its facility on Caroline and Henry streets from Nov. 1 to April 1, 2017.

“That location is a perfect storm of what can go wrong,” said Franesa Pyle, owner of Saratoga Botanicals on Henry Street. “It’s the safety of the children we have to consider.”

The proximity to the city’s densest bar district, as well as to the children’s museum, the public library, and school walk-to zones poses a problem, say critics of the relocation. “We weren’t given a voice to be part of the solution, or we would have expressed our concerns at that time,” said Michelle Smith, executive director of The Children’s Museum, on Caroline Street. “The museum supports the needs of the community - the homeless, the children, the families – we’re very sensitive to the complicated issues we face and we want to be part of the solution to make sure everyone has their needs met,” Smith added. “Where the complexity comes in for this location is that it’s directly between the museum entrance parking lot and the library. We need to make sure our patrons feel safe and secure coming to the museum.”

A three-page “summary of concerns” was presented to city Mayor Joanne Yepsen and a meeting was convened Friday at City Hall with nearly two dozen local business owners and residents. Yepsen, Public Safety Department Deputy Eileen Finneran, Shelters of Saratoga Director Michael Finocchi and Police Chief Greg Veitch were in attendance to listen to grievances during the 60-minute meeting. Questions were raised about whether Code Blue residents would be screened for sex offender status, complaints made about increased costs that would be associated with increased lighting and cameras for better street visibility, private police guards, and the clean-up of increased debris, and requests heard that a closed-door curfew be instituted at the shelter as early as 7 p.m. City Police Chief Greg Veitch responded that an increased police presence would be visible, and Finocchi indicated S.O.S. may be open to the idea of an earlier curfew - previously targeted as midnight and which could potentially be changed to 10 p.m.

Members of the east side community said they are mobilizing as a group and urging that the Salvation Army reconsider and agree to host Code Blue for another winter as a short-term solution, while the group becomes more involved in finding a permanent, long-term solution.

“I think it’s a great program and we need something like this in the community, but it landed on us without warning. We didn’t get any notice and it was quite a surprise,” Pyle said. “It would be great if the Salvation Army can take it back this season, so we can then look at some solutions in the long-term.”

The largest issue in designating a permanent home for Code Blue is financial. No city funds have been used to operate the shelter, and while no one has yet to raise the idea of spending tax dollars on a permanent facility, other communities are exploring the possibilities. In Colorado, the city of Aurora recently tabbed $1.5 million of its cannabis tax revenues to be used for homeless programs, and in Los Angeles, California, the City Council voted to place a bond measure before voters on the November ballot to raise money to fight homelessness.

In each of the past two years, the Code Blue Saratoga shelter was open more than 80 nights providing more than 3,054 and 3,344 overnight stays, respectively, in addition to more than 1,700 others provided dinner during the winter seasons of 2014-15 and 2015-16. The days of operation are anticipated to increase given new state mandates which require shelters to open when temperatures dip below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Previously, Code Blue operated at a threshold of below 20 degrees.

“We’re opening on Nov. 1 – somewhere,” said Mayor Yepsen, explaining the search for other potential facilities proved unsuccessful due to factors such as affordability and date availability. “If anyone has any suggestions, let us know.” It appears the Caroline Street location will serve as Code Blue’s winter home should no other venue be brought into the mix during the next few weeks. “If nothing happens, we’ll still have a place,” said Mike Finocchi. “Like the mayor said, it’s going to be somewhere.”

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