SARATOGA SPRINGS — Frigid temperatures prompted Shelters of Saratoga to open the Code Blue emergency shelter Tuesday night for the first time since last winter.
Twenty-three people sought shelter, as temperatures dipped into the low 30s.
The shelter, which serves Saratoga, Washington and Warren counties, is operating out of Soul Saving Station Church on Henry Street for the second year in a row.
Shelters of Saratoga was supposed to move into a new structure to be built on the organization’s Walworth Street property next month, but legal action by residents stalled that plan.
Executive Director Michael Finocchi said new rules and regulations are in place for those who want to stay in the Code Blue shelter this year.
“We used to let people leave after they signed in, as long as they were back by curfew, which was 10 p.m.,” he said. “Now, once you’re in, you’re in, unless you’re going out with a staff member for a smoke break, which are every hour on the hour until lights-out.”
Finocchi said keeping individuals at the Code Blue shelter prevents substance abuse and loitering on city streets.
“[On Tuesday,] we had a few people decide not to stay because of the new rule, but they’ll have to follow the rules if they want to stay,” he said.
Last year, Code Blue housed a total of 83 individuals over the course of the winter, and the shelter was open 148 nights and 28 days.
Finocchi added that of the 83 people who took advantage of the Code Blue shelter last year, 37 transitioned into a permanent housing facility.
The Code Blue shelter first opened its doors four years ago, following the death of 54-year-old Nancy Pitts, who was found dead on a covered loading dock at the back of the Saratoga Springs Senior Center.
Pitts’ death propelled Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen to rally area churches and non-profit organizations to open the Code Blue shelter.
“I said we’d never allow anyone else to die from sleeping outdoors,” she said. “I immediately pulled people together, and we were able to get a shelter up and running within two weeks.”
Yepsen said the Code Blue shelter is a much-needed service.
“We’ve identified that many of the people who use it are Saratogians, so we’re taking care of our own,” she said. “Some people just need a place to stay for a night, while others need long-term services, and Shelters of Saratoga can provide that.”
Yepsen said she hopes plans for the new Code Blue facility on Walworth Street are able to move forward.
“Every winter, we’re searching high and low for a facility to operate in, and we need a permanent solution,” she said. “The one that has been proposed allows the Shelters of Saratoga to operate within adjoining facilities and share administrative staff, volunteers and resources.
“I’m really hoping to get this resolved soon for the sake of everyone, especially for the homeless.”
Finocchi said he’s hoping the season goes smoothly for the shelter.
“We know the population we’re dealing with, and we run a tight ship,” he said. “Hopefully, with the new rules and regulations in place, it’ll get better.
“We’re just trying to provide a safe shelter for people and trying to save lives so we don’t have a tragedy like the one in 2013.”
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