Displaying items by tag: code blue

Friday, 10 January 2020 14:36

Code Blue: A Community Comes Together

SARATOGA SPRINGS –  It’s been a long and winding road to Adelphi Street since a community of residents, clergy, business leaders, politicians and everyday folks first came together to create a space where people without a home can find shelter during frigid nights, get fed a warm meal, recharge their bodies and head back out into the light of the next day to try and secure a more stable standing.

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 that Christmas Eve at St. Peter’s Parish Center.

A series of temporary winter shelters, sited at a variety of venues across town, have followed: the Salvation Army building west of Broadway and Soul Saving Station Church east of Broadway, among them. The latter, having a 41-bed capacity, required the addition of the Presbyterian New England Congregational Church also open for extended periods to care for the “overflow” of guests.

Last month, Shelters of Saratoga - which oversees the Code Blue shelter program – opened the latest temporary venue at 4 Adelphi St., just west of South Broadway. In 2016, an executive order issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo directs emergency shelters to operate when temperatures drop below 32 degrees.

Many hands were needed to transform a previously vacant Adelphi Street warehouse into a suitable shelter space in time for the winter season.   

“On behalf of Shelters of Saratoga, I extend my heartfelt appreciation to the incredible generosity of all the businesses that helped bring Code Blue to Adelphi Street a reality,” said S.O.S. Executive Director Karen Gregory.

The locally based Bonacio Construction firm led the way, transforming the 4,000 square-foot of industrial space into accommodations for people during cold temperatures, at cost. The work included fitting up the existing building with new electrical, HVAC, and plumbing, painting floors, adding bathrooms with showers, and donating shelving.

“We worked hard to get this project on schedule after running into asbestos in the building in November,” Bonacio says. “After working through the weekends, we were able to make up valuable time and got them up and running for opening on December 9.”

“We’re very grateful to them for completing the project at cost, foregoing profit and being very generous with their expertise,” Gregory said.

During the 2017-18 winter season – the latest figures available - Code Blue was open 162 nights, served more than 8,000 meals, and provided sleeping quarters for a total of 6,480 overnight stays – or on average, 40 nightly guests.

The new location houses a 61-bed facility – many more than in previous locations - and as such, Gregory said an “overflow” shelter is not anticipated at this time.  “I think the new location is working well. We’re working with people to get them to and from different appointments they need to be at. We’re in Saratoga Springs, so realistically anywhere in the city would have worked well,” she added. 

The lease on the new location runs until November 2021. An entirely new staff and leadership has been hired providing more people than in years past working each shift, and just over 107 new volunteers have also been added this year, pointed out Gregory, who said the search for a location to host a permanent site continues. “That’s something I’m truly committed to and is something in the conversation and on my agenda every single day. Two years is going to go by quickly, so we can’t take our eye off of that. That has to be a priority on my agenda, the city’s agenda, and hopefully the county’s agenda as well,” Gregory said. 

Finding a permanent shelter location has proved to be a challenge.  A permanent shelter location was thought to be found in 2017 on Walworth Street, where a Code Blue structure would be built on property belonging to Shelters of Saratoga after local business owner Ed Mitzen, and his wife Lisa announced they would pay the costs for the new, permanent shelter to be built. In September 2018, 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 nullified previously granted approvals by the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals and the Planning Board which would have allowed the shelter to be built.

Regarding the new temporary spot, the city of Saratoga Springs provided $50,000 towards the upkeep of the building as well as for paying rent in the off-season for the next two years, as well as supporting the S.O.S. outreach program.

As far as need, Gregory says the best way for people to help is to make donations directly to Shelters of Saratoga to aid in the continuation of the organization’s providing of services.

“We haven’t been reimbursed by the county or the state at all yet, so we’re carrying this tremendous financial responsibility forward,” Gregory said. “We’re not exactly sure what the county and state are going to reimburse us for and there’s always a risk of the unknown.  That makes it difficult on a small non-profit like us because we can’t afford to incur those expenses and not get reimbursed, obviously. In the interim, we have applied and been approved for a bridge loan for $200,000 by a non-profit bank just in case reimbursement continues to be prolonged. At least that would not put the agency in a tough spot and cover some of the costs, until we get some kind of reimbursement.”

Finding a long-term solution to address the city’s homelessness issue – specifically including a permanent Code Blue facility - is listed among the city’s outlook of priorities in 2020. 

“I’m so thankful to be working in this incredibly generous community - the amount of expertise and support and humanity - just coming together when there are needs and putting people first,” said Gregory, who was named executive director of S.O.S. last year.  “We really do care about our homeless neighbors, keeping them safe, and I’m very appreciate of having a community that’s so behind S.O.S. It’s been a wonderful experience so far.” 

Statement from Bonacio Construction Inc.: The temporary Code Blue shelter in Downtown Saratoga Springs required transforming this 4,000 square foot industrial space into accommodations for people during the cold temperatures. Thank you to our incredible team of local businesses who helped out on this project: Allerdice ACE Hardware for donating materials. B&B Plumbing & Heating for donating both its plumbing and HVAC services. CT Mail for providing its air monitoring services during asbestos removal at a discount. Kyle Fillion of Evolve IT for donating his services for video conferencing. Granite & Marble Works, Inc. for donating granite countertops. NRC NY Environmental for working on the asbestos abatement at a discount. Prediletto Electric for donating its time and supplies. Tom Roohan of Roohan Realty for donating the showers. Stone Industries for providing its services. Thermally Yours, Inc. for installing the insulation. Tuff Kote Flooring LLC for installing the epoxy flooring at half price. Winsupply of Saratoga Springs & Bath Expressions Showroom for donating the plumbing fixtures. Project Manager: James Ackerman.

 

Published in News
Friday, 07 June 2019 13:50

Code Blue Eyes New Location

SARATOGA SPRINGS - She was 54 and without a home when she lay across a loading dock, not far from the school where she’d attended classes as a young girl. Her body was discovered the next day, on a frigid December morning on the city’s west side.

A community of residents and clergy, business leaders, politicians and everyday folks were motivated to action that winter of 2013. In quick order, they came together. Their goal: creating a space where people without a home can find shelter during frigid nights, get fed a warm meal, recharge their bodies, then head back out into the light of the next day to try and secure a more stable standing.

A temporary emergency shelter was launched that Christmas Eve at St. Peter’s Parish Center. Since that time, a series of temporary winter shelters have been sited at a variety of venues across town.  From the west-of Broadway Salvation Army building, to the east-of Broadway Soul Saving Station Church, each move faced push-back from some residents who lived in the community where the shelter planned to relocate. Each group expressed a desire for a shelter to be sited, followed with the caveat: just not here.

Soul Saving Station church on Henry Street has hosted a temporary Code Blue shelter the past three years but soon will repurpose the space where the temporary shelter operated, making it not a viable winter option for Code Blue. Enter Presbyterian New England Congregational Church.

 “We are talking about a partnership with Shelters of Saratoga to turn our Nolan House – which is our big, Victorian brick house - into Code Blue,” said Rev. Kate Forer, a Massachusetts native who became Senior Pastor at Presbyterian New England Congregational Church in 2016. “We had a meeting with our congregation this past weekend to introduce the idea to them. And we also had a meeting with our neighbors to introduce the idea to them as well. “

A permanent shelter location was thought to be found in 2017 on Walworth Street, where a Code Blue structure would be built on property belonging to Shelters of Saratoga – the organization who operates the Code Blue program. Local business owner Ed Mitzen, and his wife Lisa announced they would pay the costs for the new, permanent shelter to be built. In September 2018, 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 nullified previously granted approvals by the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals and the Planning Board which would have allowed the shelter to be built.

Meanwhile, the need for a shelter is strong. Since opening in the 2013-14 winter season and through 2017-18 – the latest figures available, the number of those seeking shelter has increased each year. During the 2017-18 winter season, Code Blue was open 162 nights, served more than 8,000 meals, and provided sleeping quarters for a total of 6,480 overnight stays – or on average, 40 nightly guests.  Presbyterian New England Congregational Church - or PNECC - was also open during 90 of those nights to care for “overflow” guests. 

“The congregation is open to the idea – this is part of the core mission of who we are as a church,” says Rev. Forer.  “For over 40 years, our mission has been about serving vulnerable populations. Our mission statement is that we are working to make God’s love and justice real in our world,” the pastor said.  “This homeless population is already here on our campus and Code Blue does not have a place to go for the 2019-2020 season. We feel it is our duty and obligation to care for our brothers and sisters and to care for them with the necessary services to – not only survive - but to thrive.”

An executive order issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo directs emergency shelters to operate when temperatures drop below 32 degrees. Code Blue’s temporarily housing at the Soul Saving Station Church often found the 41-bed shelter at full capacity.

Any alterations required to site an emergency shelter at PNECC would be minimal. “The soup kitchen is right next door, so we wouldn’t need a kitchen,” said Karen Gregory, executive director of Shelters of Saratoga. “There would have to be some additions - bathrooms and showers – but there would be very limited changes.” 

The organization anticipates the facility will house 55 beds, which would likely eliminate the need for an off-site overflow emergency center.

“We’re having the conversation. Can this happen at the church? What does it look like, and how do we involve the community members in the conversation?” Gregory says. “We still have lots of steps and lots of conversations (to have) about it.” A preliminary schedule of future meetings is expected to be completed next week.

“We’re still in the talking phase, but I am reaching out to every member of the community, every member of the county, every member in the city in their government positions and saying: please come to the table, have a conversation with us and help us to find a permanent solution for Code Blue,” Gregory said. “It’s desperately needed and there’s a governor’s mandate directing the county do that, but I need the county’s support in order to really move that program and that project forward. There needs to be a collaboration.”

Earlier conversations to potentially site the shelter by Bethesda Episcopal Church on Washington Street didn’t pan out due to the shelter’s proposed location in the building - being on the fourth floor could create issues and obstacles, Gregory says - as well as the rent. “It’s not something we could financially endure and still keep our programming intact,” Gregory says.  The Mitzens remain on board, Gregory added.  “They are strongly supporting Code Blue and are staying on as donors and trying to help us find a solution. They’ve been incredibly generous, kind and patient.”

Discussions regarding PNECC have stipulated that the church would continue to own the Nolan House building and SOS would run the Code Blue program. At some point, a permanent location will still need to be secured.

“I think we have to see how this goes, but I am totally open to a collaboration anywhere in Saratoga that would support this, and I will continue to work to follow the governor’s mandate,” Gregory said. 

Published in News

SARATOGA SPRINGS - A decision has been made in the lawsuit against the City of Saratoga Springs which seeks to block a permanent Code Blue shelter from being built on the property of Shelters of Saratoga, Inc. at 14 Walworth St., according to S.O.S.

In an order dated Sept. 17, a Saratoga County Supreme Court judge has vacated and nullified all City approvals granted to SOS in response to a lawsuit filed by surrounding neighbors. The order vacates and nullifies the determinations by The City of Saratoga Springs Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and Planning Board in 2017 and 2018 which would have allowed the shelter to be built.

Shelters of Saratoga, or S.O.S., oversees the Code Blue program, and siting an emergency shelter at a permanent location has been a high priority following a series of temporary shelter venues that have been staged at St. Peter’s Parish Center, the Salvation Army building and the Soul Saving Station Church.

In early 2017, local business owner Ed Mitzen, and his wife Lisa, stepped forward to announce they will pay for the costs of a new, permanent Code Blue homeless shelter to be built on the current Shelters of Saratoga property on Walworth Street.

The 2017 and 2018 approvals from the ZBA and Planning Board were challenged based upon the opposition to the City’s administrative determination that the proposed Code Blue shelter met the definition of a “neighborhood rooming house” as set forth in the Saratoga Springs City Zoning Code. Following the administrative decision, the ZBA voted in favor of the interpretation that the proposed shelter was zoning compliant. The decision revoking the most recent approvals resulted from the combination of two lawsuits filed by the neighbors in 2018 which is in addition to a 2017 lawsuit neighbors filed following the ZBA dismissal of their case as untimely.

Code Blue, a program of SOS, is a restriction-free winter shelter that operates from November until April when the temperature drops below 32 degrees or more than 12 inches of snow is predicted. The temporary shelter was located at Soul Saving Station Church on Henry Street in Saratoga Springs for the winter of 2017-2018. During the 2017-18 winter season, Code Blue provided meals, clothing and support to 144 people. An average of 53 people used the shelter for 162 evenings and 44 daytime openings. Forty-five individuals transitioned into treatment, reconnected with family, entered another program, or found permanent housing.

The Franklin Street residents opposed to the shelter being developed on Walworth Street, released a statement through their spokesperson subsequent to the ruling by Judge Robert Chauvin. The statement reads: "Given the order and judgment of the court that the proposed Walworth Street shelter expansion was not an appropriate use of zoning, it is our hope that the Shelters of Saratoga, the City, the neighbors, the County, and involved parties can work together to carefully address homelessness and Code Blue services in our community. Alternate sites have been offered and should be considered as part of a meaningful, long-term solution."

“Our plans to shelter people for the upcoming winter season are well underway thanks to the commitment of Soul Saving Station Church and Presbyterian New England Congregational Church as temporary locations for Code Blue.” said Marcy Dreimiller, SOS board president, in a statement. “We are disappointed in the decision and will now need to evaluate what options exist for a permanent, long term solution for the Code Blue program.”

Published in News

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Representatives of the Rip Van Dam hotel project provided a revised update of their plans to the Planning Board on April 5.

Among the revisions: the previously suggested orange brick face of the building has been changed to feature a softer white appearance; the proposed banquet facility will be replaced by a restaurant, and the newest configuration will total 159 rooms. Previous proposals varied between 142 and 176 rooms.  

Parking will be via a multi-story garage with a 341-vehicle capacity to be built on Hamilton Street, just south of Congress Street, atop a current flat lot.  

The Planning Board is slated to consider Shelters of Saratoga’s application(s) for a special use permit and site plan review for a proposed permanent Code Blue emergency homeless shelter on Walworth Street. It is anticipated the board may consider those applications at its next meeting, on Thursday, April 19.  

This is the current lot, facing Hamilton Street, where a proposed multi-story garage will be constructed. 

8.2-park lot.jpg

 

Upcoming Meetings

Monday, April 16: 9:30 a.m. City Council Pre-agenda Meeting.

Monday, April 16: 5 p.m. Planning Board Workshop.

Tuesday, April 17: 7 p.m. City Council Meeting

Wednesday, April 18: 7 p.m. Design Review Commission Meeting

Thursday, April 19: 6 p.m. Planning Board Meeting.    

Published in News

SARATOGA SPRINGS – The city based Code Blue emergency shelter, which has had a transitory geographic existence since its opening in late 2013, has one final hurdle before landing in a permanent home.

Earlier this week, the city Zoning Board of Appeals upheld its May 2017 interpretation that the proposed new permanent shelter on Walworth Street is zoning compliant. The ZBA’s unanimous 7-0 decision came in the aftermath of a legal challenge to halt its development, led by a group of 22 area residents, claiming the development is not a permitted use within the Urban Residential Zoning District.

Following the ZBA’s Jan. 8 approval, the 22 Franklin Street residents opposed to the project issued a statement saying they were disappointed by the “erroneous determination” and that they will be identifying their next steps and actions “in the near future." The group has until Feb. 7 to file an appeal. Claudia Braymer, an attorney representing the residents, said on Wednesday the group had yet to make a final decision regarding an appeal.

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. Since that time, a series of temporary shelters have been housed at St. Peter’s Parish Center, the west-of Broadway Salvation Army building, and the east-of Broadway Soul Saving Station Church, and at times met with public opposition by some residents who lived near the location where the shelter was to be sited.

Last February, local business owner Ed Mitzen announced he would donate the funds to construct a permanent Code Blue homeless shelter atop Shelters of Saratoga property on Walworth Street. Shelters of Saratoga, or S.O.S., oversees the Code Blue emergency program and operates a case managed shelter and a twice-a-week “drop-in” center - which draws 20 to 22 people each day - at its two existing buildings on the property.  

S.O.S. Executive Director Michael Finocchi said having the Code Blue emergency shelter on its grounds benefit those seeking help and provide a greater continuum of services.  “First off, we won’t have to go looking for another (temporary emergency) place every year and it will also enable us to share services between Shelters of Saratoga and Code Blue – housing services, employment services; we can offer more to these individuals. This project will allow us to more easily connect homeless individuals with the support services they need.”

The city based shelter initially would open when temperatures dipped below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but in early 2017 Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order which directed emergency shelters to operate when temperatures drop below 32 degrees. Currently, Code Blue is temporarily housed at the Soul Saving Station Church on Henry Street, where since mid-November the 41-bed shelter has been at full capacity. The proposed new building will consist of approximately 6,500 square feet of space and house about 50 beds. The two-story building is slated to include 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.

On a single night in 2017, 553,742 people were experiencing homelessness in the United States and more than one-fifth of those people were children, according to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which was released December 2017.  The number of people experiencing homelessness increased in 14 states between 2007 and 2017, and the largest absolute increases were in New York State – up by 43 percent during that time, according to the report, which notes that there are about 89,500 who are homeless in New York. And while New York may also have a greater population than many others, the national average state-by-state indicates 17 people per 10,000 are homeless, while in New York that ratio jumps to 45 people per 10,000 - a ranking that places N.Y. third worst in the nation. 

The proposed permanent shelter Code Blue location heads for final approval back to the Planning Board, which meets for a workshop – a pre-meeting gathering – on Tuesday and for its full meeting Thursday, Jan. 18 when it is anticipated to discuss the matter.  The proposal is not expected to meet much resistance; the Planning Board was unanimous in its support of a special use permit and site plan review for the facility, last July.

“It’s got to go back to the Planning Board, but we won’t have to go through the whole process like we did the first time,” Finocchi said. “It was already there before, and the vote was 7-0. Once we get our approval we can file for a building permit.”

Depending on the length of this year’s spring thaw, the site housing the permanent Code Blue shelter building could be operational by the 2018-19 winter season, which begins next November.

Mayor Meg Kelly, who began her term Jan. 1, thanked the ZBA following Monday’s unanimous agreement. “Code Blue is a community problem and we all must come together as a community to solve this problem. We are better as a group to help the homeless during these brutally cold nights,” Kelly said. 

 

The proposed Code Blue permanent shelter: 

code blue prop Screenshot 2018-01-09 14.39.34.png

Published in News

SARATOGA SPRINGS – The city’s Code Blue emergency shelter will again be sited at the Soul Saving Station Church as a temporary measure to house individuals who would otherwise remain unsheltered during harsh winter conditions.

Code Blue Saratoga, a program of Shelters of Saratoga, was anticipated to have secured a permanent location following the February 2017 gift offered by Ed and Lisa Mitzen to construct a permanent facility on the grounds of 20 Walworth St., where the current SOS shelter is located.

Bonacio Construction and the LA Group subsequently partnered with the Mitzen Family to provide the necessary project planning, which gained unanimous approval from both the city Planning Board and Zoning Board of Approvals. The two-story structure was slated to house about 50 beds. 

But in July, the city’s determination of zoning and land use for the project was challenged by a group of nearly two dozen people who initiated a legal action to halt its development. As a result, initial construction timelines have been delayed pending judicial review of the project, and those delays forced those operating the shelter to look elsewhere. 

Pastor Arnold Byrd II and The Soul Saving Station Church on Henry Street, the host site of last year’s Code Blue season, once again stepped forward to partner with SOS as the temporary host of its 2017-18 Code Blue season.  “Being part of this community, we have a duty to assist those in need,” Byrd said, in a statement.

Both city mayoral candidates – Republican Mark Baker and Democrat Meg Kelly – acknowledged Soul Saving Station for stepping forward to provide a space for temporary shelter, in response to an inquiry seeking comment for this article, although no specific information was offered regarding the potential Walworth Street location. The responses, in full, are below.   

Officials at SOS – who currently operate two other buildings on the Walworth Street property as well as a twice-a-week “drop-in” center – say having the Code Blue shelter in close proximity to the case-managed shelters maximizes the opportunity to provide a full continuum of services and more easily connect homeless individuals with the support services they need.

"What we foresaw and unfortunately now has happened is that poor leadership, bad planning and a lack of consensus building to address human needs is now locked up in litigation – a disappointing theme of the current administration to a very complex issue.

"I’m thankful that Pastor Byrd and the Soul Saving Station Church have stepped up to welcome those who need shelter into their Congregation.

"As the current proposal is in litigation, I will not be commenting further on future plans. However, as a community, we have a moral obligation and responsibility to show compassion and to be responsive to those already in our city who are in need and homeless, especially children.  As Mayor, I would be personally committed to working with the faith, social services and business communities to find a solution to this complex issue that is sensitive to those in need, but is also responsible and respectful to our neighborhoods, schools and residents." – Statement from Mark Baker.

"Saratoga Springs helps its homeless with services from various agencies. 

“The Code Blue overnight shelter is truly a community effort that offers meals, supplies, services through volunteer hours from businesses, support groups and individuals.  I am grateful that the Soul Saving Station Church will host the shelter again this winter when the temperature drops below 32*F. 

“It is my belief that a permanent home for Code Blue can be realized through public-private partnerships and if I am elected as Mayor I will work to make sure this becomes a reality for our community." - Statement from Meg Kelly.

Published in News

SARATOGA SPRINGS – A project to site a permanent homeless shelter on the city’s west side is being challenged by a group of nearly two dozen people who are taking legal action to halt its development.

Slated to be built on Walworth Street - adjacent to the current Shelters of Saratoga which owns the property, and funded by local business owner Ed Mitzen, and his wife Lisa - the two-story Code Blue structure to house about 50 beds has moved through the city’s Land Use boards and was anticipated to open Nov. 1, in advance of the winter season.

During the past few months, many who have spoken at public hearings in opposition to siting the shelter have delicately tiptoed through a not-in-my-backyard verbalization to urge that a shelter be built elsewhere. The lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday against the city Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, claims the project doesn’t fit into the neighborhood. 

“The bottom line is it does not meet the definition of a neighborhood rooming house and it doesn’t meet the criteria for a special use permit – those are the two main claims,” said Glens Falls based attorney Claudia Braymer, who is representing those opposed to the chosen location chosen of the project.   

“Obviously we want to help people who are homeless – most of my clients have expressed that to me - but it’s a matter of garnering good community support though, in finding the right location for it,” Braymer said.    

Last month, city Republican mayoral candidate Mark Baker released a statement to say the shelter proposal “does not adequately respect our neighborhoods and current residents,” and suggested that a city shelter may bring more people in need from outside the community to Saratoga Springs.

Current Democrat City Mayor Joanne Yepsen, who in December 2013 helped spearhead the first temporary emergency shelter in the city, responded that Baker's accusation that the temporary shelter has contributed to the homeless problem was “misinformed, uncompassionate, and just plain mean spirited.”

Siting an emergency shelter at a permanent location has been a high priority following a series of temporary shelter venues that have been staged at St. Peter’s Parish Center, the Salvation Army building and the Soul Saving Station Church.

Officials at Shelters of Saratoga – who currently operate two other buildings on the Walworth Street property as well as a twice-a-week “drop-in” center – say having the Code Blue shelter in close proximity to the case-managed shelters maximizes the opportunity to provide a full continuum of services and more easily connect homeless individuals with the support services they need.

Between 2007 and 2015 homelessness in New York increased by 41 percent, according to the 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Between 2014 and 2015 alone, New York State’s homeless population jumped by 7,660 - the largest increase in the nation for the one-year period.

The average number of overnight guests at the temporary Code Blue shelter this past winter season – 41 per night – was an all-time high. An executive order signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo directs emergency shelters to operate when temperatures drop below 32 degrees.

Published in News

SARATOGA SPRINGS - City Republican mayoral candidate Mark Baker  released a statement Monday in advance of tonight’s Zoning Board of Appeals meeting (7 p.m. at City Hall) where a discussion will be held regarding the proposed 61-bed homeless shelter on the city's west side.  

In the statement, Baker says the current proposal “is not sufficient” in serving the homeless, and that “it does not adequately respect our neighborhoods and current residents,” suggesting that a city shelter may bring in more people in need from outside the community. 

“As a community we have a moral obligation and responsibility to show compassion and to be responsive to those already in our city who are in need and homeless,” says Baker, adding the shelter “may in fact create an even greater need, by attracting additional folks in need to the community versus Saratoga Springs embracing those who are in the city already needing a helping hand.”

While no alternative plan is offered, Baker says, “I am personally committed to finding a solution to this issue.”

Current Democrat Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen, who is not running for re-election, issued a response to Baker’s statements late Monday, which read, in part: “Mr. Baker's accusation that the Mayor's office, along with the many volunteers who have helped and donated to Code Blue since I have taken office, have somehow contributed to the homeless problem is misinformed, uncompassionate, and just plain mean spirited.” 

Baker's statement, in its entirety, immediately follows. Yepsen's statement, in its entirety, follows below. 

Candidate Mark Baker:

“I trust and expect the Saratoga Springs Zoning Broad will be realistic and objective when they evaluate the merits and challenges of approving a "Code Blue" facility in the heart of one of Saratoga Springs’ historic and most densely populated residential areas.

“As a community we have a moral obligation and responsibility to show compassion and to be responsive to those already in our city who are in need and homeless, especially children.  I am personally committed to finding a solution to this issue that is sensitive to those in need but is also responsible to our neighborhoods, schools and residents.

“The first step in finding a resolution and mutually acceptable solution is for city leaders, particularly the mayor, to listen and gather public input and guidance.

“The current proposal before the Zoning Board is not sufficient in how it will serve the homeless and it does not adequately respect our neighborhoods and current residents. A better solution needs to be investigated.

“It may, in fact, create an even greater need, by attracting additional folks in need to the community versus Saratoga Springs embracing those who are in the city already needing a helping hand.

“The past approach to these pressing questions and lack of public input, planning and thoughtfulness from the mayor’s office has led to real community problems of vagrancy, aggressive panhandling and encouraging the presence of homeless individuals downtown. In a tourist destination city, with a vibrant downtown residential community, these are problems for tourism, downtown business and public safety management of our community.

“The goal is to be responsive and compassionate to those who are homeless. The solution needs to be respectful and realistic. The current Zoning Board proposal is not the ‘best practice’ approach to addressing the question of how to help people to find shelter.”

Mayor Joanne Yepsen:

"Immediately after Nancy Pitts died on the winter streets of Saratoga Springs in December 2013 and before I was even sworn in as Mayor, I established Code Blue Saratoga with the help of many non-profits in our City stating, never would we allow anyone to die on the streets of Saratoga Springs due to exposure, under my administration.  Since then, we have ended Veterans Homelessness with permanent housing and we are offering emergency shelter under the Code Blue Program.  95 % of Code Blue Saratoga guests are Saratogians.  They are homeless, and in our community already and many are just temporarily down on their luck and need a helping hand.  Not only does Code Blue save lives, but the guests are also receiving much needed support and services that they might not get otherwise.  In fact, the Code Blue program is so successful that over 1/3 of all guests over the past few years have "graduated" and no longer need the emergency shelter.

“Since taking office, the Mayor's office has collaborated with the Chamber of Commerce, Shelters of Saratoga, neighborhoods, non-profits, places of worship, attended community meetings, and hosted countless meetings in my office with all who wanted to meet, discuss options, and help contribute to the solution. We even started a Code Blue Steering Committee made up of the community to work with me and Shelters throughout the program's existence. Wellspring, Giving Circle, Captain, Community Healthcare, Catholic Charities, EOC are all on board and have been involved since the beginning.  This is a community collaboration.

“Since that snowy Christmas Eve in 2013 when we first opened our doors, a volunteer program organically developed of hundreds of caring and generous individuals and now have the added generosity of Ed and Lisa Mitzen.  The leadership of Code Blue Saratoga is well-established and under the highly regarded and successful non-profit Shelters of Saratoga, which offered to oversee a solution to keep people from living off the streets, otherwise it's back on the streets for homeless.

“After much input, debate, and conversations, the question becomes very simple: "What kind of community do we want to be?"  Do we want to be the kind of City that allows our most disadvantaged people to die on the streets?  Or do we want to be the kind of City who come together, who collectively advocate and fund raise, who strategize and think through together as a community how to best approach our homeless issue both in the short term as well as the long term.

“Mr. Baker's accusation that the Mayor's office, along with the many volunteers who have helped and donated to Code Blue since I have taken office, have somehow contributed to the homeless problem is misinformed, uncompassionate, and just plain mean spirited.  Based on Mark Baker's naive position, many will guess he's never attended a Code Blue Steering Committee meeting or volunteered in the shelter, as so many Saratogians have done.  I would guess the question on many readers minds would be what has he done in the last four years to offer a solution or be a part of the conversation?  He really ought to be ashamed of himself.  I understand he is operating in campaign mode, we are trying to save lives here."

Published in News
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.”

Published in News

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Mike Finocchi cast his eyes across the big room which stands on the corner where Henry and Caroline streets meet.

The executive director at Shelters of Saratoga took stock of the kitchen, where wood cabinets bookend a stove and microwave, a refrigerator and a freezer. He noted the spacious women’s and men’s restrooms, strolled through the large adjacent room where supplies and clothing will be stored, and imagined the dozens of cots that will be placed in the main room and made available to the city’s homeless population as a place to shelter during the harshest days of the impending winter.

After setting up shop at the Salvation Army building during the past two years, Code Blue Saratoga – which is under the guidance of S.O.S. – was in need of a new temporary center to house its emergency shelter.  A lease agreement with Soul Saving Station, in effect from Nov. 1, 2016 to April 1, 2017, was announced this week. S.O.S. will pay the organization monthly rent. Finocchi declined to specify the amount, but called the cost “fair.” 

“Thank God they stepped up,” said Finocchi. “It got to the point in the summer when you’re thinking: gosh, what are we going to do? We were running out of options.”

The need for a city emergency shelter during the winter months is great. In its first abbreviated winter season in 2013-2014, the emergency shelter was open 58 nights and housed 928 overnight stays. In each of the past two years, the 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 who were provided dinner during the winter seasons of 2014-15 and 2015-16.    

Between 2007 and 2015, although homelessness nationwide decreased by 11 percent, it increased in New York, rising by 41 percent, according to the 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Between 2014 and 2015 alone, New York State’s homeless population jumped by 7,660 - the largest increase in the nation for the one-year period.

“You never know what leads one to being homeless,” Finocchi said. “It could be a bitter divorce, or someone who may have lost everything. You just never know.” 

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.

"After Nancy Pitts, I was determined no one would die on the streets of Saratoga Springs ever again," Yepsen said Thursday. No city funds have been used in connection with the shelter.

The shelter initially opened when temperature dipped below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Earlier this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order which directed emergency shelters to operate when temperatures dropped below 32 degrees. The new threshold – likely to mark an increase in the number of days the shelter would operate - complicated the process for the largely volunteer staff in Saratoga.  Code Blue’s previous hosts - the Salvation Army Worship and Community Center on Woodlawn Avenue – could no longer house the shelter on site because the increased days would interfere with their own programming.

“It’s easier for places in Albany, Schenectady and Troy who have mission type places to run that kind of program, but we don’t have that here,” said Finocchi, who added he was thankful Soul Saving Station stepped forward to make their Fellowship Hall available.

“As soon as they reached out to us, we said, ‘we have available space,’” said Arnold Byrd II, church pastor at Soul Saving Station. “It made sense to us. It’s something we should be doing. You have to be supportive of those who need help.”

Whereas the Salvation Army housed up to 100 cots, the new venue is slightly smaller. “It’s going to be a little tighter here, but the bottom line is no one needs to be sleeping on the street,” Finocchi said. “If it’s a little more snug than the Salvation Army, so be it, but at least people have an option other than the parking garage, or the woods and a tent.”   

Given the geographic proximity to the plethora of bars and taverns along Caroline Street, Finocchi said the organization will be diligent in monitoring the shelter and will institute a midnight curfew, after which people may come in, but not go out.

Code Blue Saratoga will host a meeting and offer training for volunteers in October. Those interested in volunteering their time can sign up at: https://www.codebluesaratoga.org/wordpress/volunteer/how-to-volunteer/

 

For those interested in donating items, Code Blue Saratoga Director Cheryl Ann Murphy-Parant said the emergency shelter’s largest needs are men’s socks and underwear, canned food, and individually-wrapped snacks. 

Published in News

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