Shelters offer warm haven

An already hard winter for homeless shelters got harder Wednesday, with temperatures dipping into th

An already hard winter for homeless shelters got harder Wednesday, with temperatures dipping into the single digits.

Shelters in the area worked to have enough cots on hand to bed down the homeless.

When the beds are taken, they go to mats. When those are taken, it’s chairs.

“Snow is one thing,” said Perry Jones, of the Capital City Rescue Mission in Albany, “but it’s the cold weather that really drives people in. When it gets below a certain temperature tonight, that’s when things will really start cooking.”

The Capital City Rescue Mission saw a total of 182 clients Tuesday night, 170 men and 12 women, Jones said. He expected a 10 percent increase Wednesday night.

Schenectady’s City Mission expected a similar increase on the coldest night of the winter so far.

The City Mission had out the extra mats and was turning extra rooms into dormitories for the night to add to the 43 official beds. Hats and gloves were readied for distribution.

The City Mission is under an extra crunch with renovations limiting available space. A backup plan was devised for any overflow guests.

“I can’t always tell you where they’re coming from, but extra people do come,” said Michael Saccocio, executive director of the City Mission. “And we know we’ll have more men than beds.”

Temperatures Wednesday night were to get down close to zero, with wind chills well below zero, according to the National Weather Service.

The cold is caused by an arctic air mass from southeastern Ontario sweeping quickly through the region. Weekend temperatures are expected to be in the 30s and even 40s.

National Weather Service meteorologist Tom Wasula urged the old standbys, multiple layers of clothing and drinking plenty of fluids — and avoiding long durations out in the cold.

“It’s best to be indoors in a warm place,” he said.

Shelters were trying to provide that warm place for those who don’t have one of their own.

At the Shelters of Saratoga, the only such service in Saratoga, Warren and Washington counties, space is limited. It’s a smaller shelter than its Albany and Schenectady counterparts. It’s also most often full, though many are longer-term residents receiving help, Executive Director Nancy Breen Lamb said.

Those they can’t help can often be assisted by the social services department with emergency housing assistance, if they qualify, Lamb said.

Police officers can often direct people to shelters.

Schenectady Police Department spokesman Kevin Green said officers can contact shelters for people they see to see if there’s room for them.

That’s if the person wants help. Sometimes they respond by saying they already have a place, Green said. “But at this time of year, they’re usually receptive.”

Even if those without shelter don’t want to stay, they can still come in for a hot meal.

Saccocio recalled a man asked earlier in the day if he could come in for a bite to eat, even though he wasn’t looking for a place to stay.

This year’s weather looks all the worse for its comparison to last year, when snow came late and temperatures stayed up.

The shelters have already been working overtime, with most of January, all of February and March still to come.

“Winter’s just begun,” Saccocio said. “It’s going to be a long winter. The good news is, because people in this community care, we’ll be here to meet the needs as best we can.”

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