Schenectady County

Goal for homeless, grads: Get a job

Rose Jordan is living at the City Mission of Schenectady while she looks for a job.

Rose Jordan is living at the City Mission of Schenectady while she looks for a job.

“I’m out in the job field every day,” said Jordan, 53. “I’m teachable. I’m able to do just about any type of work. I’m adaptable.”

Jordan is permitted to stay at the City Mission for 30 days, but when she was interviewed a couple weeks ago her time was almost up and she still hadn’t found employment. She said she was hoping for an extension so that she could continue her job search in a stable place. “I’m praying for an extension,” she said. “I’m confident I’m going to get a job. I’m very optimistic and I won’t be defeated.”

Jordan isn’t alone.

Many people are staying longer at area homeless shelters and transitional programs even as the number of people seeking help from these organizations is steadily climbing. As a result, beds are not opening up as quickly as they have in the past, which makes it tougher for agencies to house people.

“People are staying in the shelter longer,” said Mike Saccocio, executive director of the City Mission of Schenectady. “Before, the quick turnaround meant they might have been here for a month before they got a job. Now, those jobs aren’t there. It creates more of a crunch. We aren’t getting the turnover.” Still, Saccocio sees a silver lining. He said that when people stay at the mission for a longer period of time, they begin to think more seriously about how to change their lives. “Because they can’t move on, they say, ‘I need to fix something in my life.’ ”

At Shelters of Saratoga, people can stay for up to 60 days.

“Even at 60 days, a lot of people are just not prepared to move on,” said Nancy Breen Lamb, executive director of Shelters of Saratoga. Even if they find a job, “many people don’t have enough time to save up enough money to move out. … If you look in the paper, there are not a lot of jobs advertised. There’s been a drop. But you can still pound the pavement and find work.”


Breen said Shelters of Saratoga turns away about 30 people a month.

The organization has 12 beds for men and six beds for women, as well as an emergency cot for either. Many residents do find jobs — Breen said that 80 percent are employed when they move out — but have trouble saving enough money for a security deposit or first month’s rent.

That’s why Shelters of Saratoga is applying for $750,000 from the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, which is part of the federal stimulus package. Breen said the organization hopes to use this money to help people with security deposits and rental payments on a short-term basis, so that they can move out of homelessness more quickly, or avoid becoming homeless in the first place. One hope is that the funding will enable Shelters of Saratoga to again function as an emergency shelter, rather than “a short-term living facility,” she said.

In Schenectady, a coalition of groups that work with the needy is also seeking Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing money — about $2 million over two years.

The goal is to prevent eviction for about 200 households and help at least 100 homeless families move into permanent housing, according to Peggy Anderton, executive director of Schenectady’s Bethesda House, one of the groups spearheading the project. Recipients who are unemployed will work with a case manager to find a job.

At the Homeless and Travelers Aid Society in Albany, more homeless families are being sent to hotels because there is no room for them in area shelters.

So far this year, 68 percent of homeless families have been sent to hotels, compared to 55 percent last year.

Some months, over 80 percent of homeless families have had to stay in a hotel.

“Even though the number of homeless families is not increasing dramatically, the length of stay is increasing,” said Ira Mandelker, executive director of the Aid Society. “People are staying homeless longer.”

The number of homeless individuals being referred to hotels has also increased, but HATAS only recently started tracking those numbers.

So far this year, 91 individuals have been placed in hotels. “There was literally no room,” Mandelker said.

Overall, “We’re seeing a lot of traffic. There are some months when we have over 1,000 visitors. People are coming here because they see themselves on the verge of being homeless.”


The City Mission of Schenectady has also been serving more people.

From January through April 2008, the organization saw 7,032 spend the night. During the same period this year, that number jumped to 9,558, an increase of 36 percent.

The number of free meals served has also jumped about 18.5 percent, from 41,403 to 49,078.

Two of the Mission’s longterm residents recently found jobs, but are not quite ready to move into permanent housing.

After sending out 45 resumes and visiting 30 businesses on foot, 47-year-old Steve Rodriguez recently got a job driving a cab.

It wasn’t what he wanted, but he said it was better than nothing, and that he’ll continue to look for a better job. “The money’s not great,” he said. “A lot of people are walking. I’m looking for something with a regular set salary. I’m working tips and wages, and it’s a struggle out there.”

“I’ve never been without a job,” Rodriguez said. “It’s been a challenge.”

Rodriguez has lived at the mission for several years. He went through the mission’s Freedom Academy, a one-year program that helps men become self-sufficient, and has continued working at the mission. But next week he plans to move into an apartment.

good break

Twenty-nine-year-old Charles Lynch has lived at the City Mission for about a year, and recently got a job as a line cook at a Friendly’s Restaurant.

Before that, he was working for a temp agency, earning minimum wage cleaning out dirty apartments. “I have future plans,” he said. “I’m trying to save money so I can move out of here and get a car.”

His goal is to get an apprenticeship with the electrical union. Soon he will move into a subsidized apartment owned by the City Mission.

“With me leaving, that opens up a bed for someone else who needs it,” Lynch said.

Finding a job is tough, Lynch said. “I have great credentials cooking. But I walked up and down Wolf Road and Colonie Center, and no one was hiring. I was willing to take less money.” He visited 18 places before a friend helped him get the job at Friendly’s. “I knew that, because of God, something was going to bite,” he said.

Meanwhile, Rose Jordan continues to look for a job and live at the City Mission. She recently started babysitting to earn some money. Unlike the men, she is not enrolled in one of the mission’s long-term programs, and is staying in the organization’s women’s facility on a short-term basis.

A certified nursing assistant, Jordan said her certification lapsed while she was in Florida caring for her grandmother. When she returned to Schenectady in May, she didn’t have a place to live, and was staying with friends and relatives. “I was living here and there,” Jordan recalled.

Then, while walking to the Salvation Army for lunch, she passed by the City Mission.

She liked the looks of the place, and made an inquiry. Soon, she was moving in. Now she is looking ahead, and plans to take medical assistant classes at Bryant & Stratton College in Albany.

“That would be a step up,” she said.

The unemployment rate for the Capital Region has seen a 54 percent increase since June 2008, jumping to 7.4 percent last month as 21,200 jobs were cut, according to the state Department of Labor.

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