GLOVERSVILLE — Night time temperatures below 32 degrees have led the Center for Hope temporary Code Blue homeless shelter at 144 E. Fulton St. to operate every night since Jan. 29.
Rev Rich Wilkinson, the leader of the Gloversville Free Methodist Church, serves on the board of directors for the Center of Hope. He said the new location has accommodated a total of four people since it opened.
“We were supposed to open on Feb. 1, but with that weekend being so cold we pushed, and our staff finished training that morning, and we opened on the 29th,” Wilkinson said. “We had four different people come through already. Three of which were one-nighters. One was brought in by the police, and the other three came in on their own.”
Wilkinson said the shelter is working to find permanent lodging for one person who has stayed at 144 E. Fulton St. multiple nights.
“We’ve had one young man who’s been there most nights, and we’re actually working with him to try to get him housing and get him off the streets,” he said.
The Common Council voted 7-0 on Jan. 12 to contribute $25,000 toward the establishment of a Code Blue temporary homeless shelter to operate between Jan. 15 and April 30 of 2021.
Wilkinson said the funding helped the Center for Hope to pay for a $2,500 monthly lease to Michael Chase the owner of 144 E. Fulton St. He said the funding also helps pay for the Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless [IPH] to provide four staff members for the location.
“We’ve got four staff members. One staff member per shift, so two full time, two part time, and then we’ve got 10 to 15 volunteers,” Wilkinson said. “We open at 6 p.m., so from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. there’s a volunteer and a staff member. We do lights out at 9 p.m., so people go to bed at that time, and then from like 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. in the morning we have a volunteer to help get people up, get them out the door and then help clean.”
The space for the shelter includes four single rooms, and then one larger room that can accommodate two to three people.
“If they came in as a family, we could probably stick a fourth bunk in there, so we’ve got really the ability to hold eight, but with COVID-19 restrictions — keeping people separated by six feet — it’s really more like seven,” he said. “There’s one bathroom and the bathroom does have a shower, and there is a kitchen and a dining room area. We can accommodate males and females, because we have individual rooms. So far, it’s been a mix. We’ve had one female.”
Wilkinson’s church owns the former YWCA at 33 Bleecker St., where he operates a food pantry called the Center for Hope. In 2020 Wilkinson was able to get a temporary certificate of occupancy for the location to function as a Code Blue temporary shelter under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2016 executive order, which allows for temporary homeless shelters to be opened on nights when the temperature goes below 32 degrees. A board of directors for the Center for Hope shelter was formed and members of the board say they were able to raise about $50,000 to pay for the cost of turning the former YWCA into a Code Blue shelter staffed by the Interfaith Partnership.
Between February and mid-April the Center for Hope reported that it provided shelter at the YWCA for 27 people over 34 Code Blue nights, with no more than 8 total people in a given night. The longest stay at the shelter was 26 nights, and the second longest was 13 nights.
The Center for Hope’s efforts to get a permanent certificate of occupancy was stymied when the city’s building inspector David Fox determined the Gloversville city code prohibited homeless shelters of any kind. The Center for Hope attempted to appeal the ruling to the Zoning Board of Appeals, but the board rejected the Center’s arguments and ruled against granting them a permanent certificate of occupancy.
The Common Council on Jan. 1 then voted 5-2 to change the city’s zoning ordinance to allow for Code Blue temporary shelters to operate in the city’s commercial zones, but also to explicitly prohibit them in the city’s downtown form-based overlay district, where the former YWCA is located. Councilman-at-large William Rowback Jr. and 4th Ward Councilwoman Ellen Anadio voted against the ordinance change.
Jerry Ryan, a member of the Center for Hope’s board of directors, said accommodations at 144 E. Fulton St. will do for now, but the center still wants to reopen on a permanent basis at the former YWCA, which can much more easily accommodate homeless people, particularly when COVID-19 restrictions are factored into the equation.
Ryan said he’s been hospitalized himself with COVID-19 for the last week, so he understands the dangers of the virus. He said the center will likely pursue an Article 78 lawsuit to attempt to get the court system to allow the Code Blue shelter to return to the YWCA.
Wilkinson said the Center for Hope is still keeping all of its legal options open, but he would like to eventually reopen the YWCA location as the permanent Code Blue shelter because that location is much better suited to helping more people.