Displaying items by tag: saratoga homeless
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.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS - Diane Duhame says she has always felt the need to help others.
In late April, Duhame learned of a group of volunteers who host Friday get-togethers in Albany to provide hot meals for the hungry and necessary essentials to the less fortunate. “I thought: I want to do that,” says Duhame, who makes her home in Galway.
The Albany organization, who call themselves Street Soldiers, gather at the Soldiers' and Sailors' monument in Washington Park and was founded in 2016 by area residents Renee and Mike Fahey. Their motto: We can't change the world, but we can help those local who are a part of the world.
In Saratoga, things moved quickly. Drawing inspiration from The Faheys, a small group of volunteers assembled in May and were granted permission to set up some tables in the Salvation Army parking lot on Woodlawn Avenue.
“We started off with no idea what to expect,” Duhame recalled. “That first week we probably had two tables with some sandwiches and fruit. I didn’t know if anyone would show up.” Volunteers from the Albany group came to support the Saratoga version of the Street Soldiers. About 15 people showed up that first week. The group has gathered every Saturday night since their inaugural May event.
“It just grew from there. More and more people started coming. Now we have eight tables and we take up a third of the parking lot,” Duhame says. “The last couple of weeks we’ve had about 40 people – and it’s not just for the homeless. There are a lot of people who are trying to make it on minimum wage. There are people leaving bad relationships and on their own. We have families come by and working people who are making minimum wage. They can keep a roof over their heads, but not everything else - sometimes it’s some shampoo or toilet paper to get you through the week.”
The tables offer goods – from razors and shaving cream to hair conditioner, underwear and socks – as well as homemade food made by volunteers – a varying course of fried chicken and macaroni salad, to fruit and sandwiches.
“Everybody makes the Saturday supper and brings it over. We’ve had goulash and bean soup; we’ve also barbecued a few times. Every week it’s something else,” Duhame says. “It’s just a group of individuals who show up Saturday night to help our friends. These are people who have good hearts. There are a lot of good people in the world.” The core group of volunteers has grown to more than a dozen, and more are always welcome.
For those in need of a meal or supplies, there are no questions asked, and everyone is welcome, Duhame says. “There are no requirements. Just whoever needs it. We don’t ask for any kind of proof or even their name. And there’s no corporation (involved). Nobody has ever said anything negative to us. It’s been amazing, and it’s taken on a life of its own.”
The gatherings are staged 7 p.m. Saturday nights in the Woodlawn Avenue parking lot of the Salvation Army. The plan is to host the event year-round and there are currently discussions being held about moving to an early time slot, to maintain daylight hours, during the winter.
“I know it’s only going to get bigger and we would like more people to help out. I know people don’t want to come out every Saturday night, but people could do little things: make something and drop it off, or just tell us where you are and we’ll tell someone to come get it. We live all over Saratoga County,” she says.
The group has created a Facebook page - StreetSoldiers II Saratoga – which contains a “wish list” of supplies and food and information about how others may get involved.
“Sometimes people feel invisible. When someone pays attention, someone who touches your heart, it can make all the difference,” Duhame says. “It’s just human kindness.”
Michael John Stone shows his appreciation for the Saratoga Street Soldiers, Saturday night Aug. 10, 2018. Photo by SuperSource Media.
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.”