SCHENECTADY — The City Mission is demolishing two old buildings on Lafayette Street and plans to break ground next month on housing that will stand on the site.
The building will contain eight two-bedroom apartments and two one-bedroom units. All will be used for the transitional housing program the Mission operates, which moves residents out of the Mission residential facility as they make progress in rebuilding their lives.
The existing and future transitional apartments are just a few yards from the cluster of buildings that house the Mission and its various programs. Residents of these apartments can gain the experiences and confidence of living independently with the knowledge that the staff and services of the Mission right next door if needed.
Executive Director Michael Saccocio said Monday the two existing structures — an eight-unit building at 302 Lafayette St. and a two-apartment house at 306 Lafayette — are owned by the Mission but are old, and are worn to the point that repairing them is not cost-effective.
The new building will total about 16,000 square feet. Along with the 10 apartments will be office space and a large gathering space for meetings, exercise, education and other purposes. Total budget — demolition, construction and furnishing — is expected to be $1.7 million.
The Mission recently built eight new units of transitional housing right across Lafayette Street from the demolition zone. The 24 transitional apartments now in operation are all occupied, and there is a waiting list. The 10 units being demolished were used as transitional housing, so the new construction won’t result in a net gain.
Saccocio likens the program to an ecosystem — housing, services, career guidance and personal development exist within a compact radius, helping people build work skills and life skills.
“It really is a holistic thing, it’s not just getting people into transitional housing,” he said.
Many former Mission residents now work at the Mission, he said. The presence of these people, and the close proximity of those in transitional housing, provides indication to residents who haven’t progressed as far that the goal is not only attainable but has been attained by people who once were in the same situation.
Sometimes, it’s just plain practical to have them so close by. Saccocio recalls that during the big snowstorm in December it took him until noon to get to the City Mission. The staff members who live on the campus had simply walked to work, and kept the place running.
The new housing project is the most literal part of the theme “A Time to Rebuild” that the Mission has adopted for its 115th anniversary, which is Thursday.
Other parts of the campaign include the newly renovated women’s and children’s shelter, which will cut the ribbon soon; new hydroponic farms in shipping containers; and greater emphasis on nutrition and exercise. There’s also the not-insignificant costs of all this — it will be time to rebuild the City Mission’s coffers. The nonprofit plans a $5 million capital campaign.
Then too there is the pandemic, which has affected all of society but has been particularly hard on congregate living facilities. During the late-2020 COVID surge, the Mission saw numerous infections among the staff and residents. None died of the virus, but it wasn’t easy to isolate those infected.
The Mission is making steady progress vaccinating its staff and residents, who have Level-1B priority for the shots. When the county is aware of a few doses available, it reaches out to the Mission, Saccocio said.
“We can’t say enough good things about the Public Health Department,” he said, also acknowledging help from the Schenectady Foundation, other public and private entities and the general public in keeping going through the crisis.
Along with the surge of the virus, this winter has bought an extended streak of very-cold weather, and with it the imperative to get the homeless off the streets at night.
That multiplies the problems — you can’t just set up a bunch of cots in a large space, and pack a bunch of people in, said Saccocio, whose ever-upbeat demeanor can’t quite hide a bit of COVID fatigue.
In the 50 weeks since the virus was confirmed in New York, the Mission has maintained services and never missed serving a meal, but that has been a challenge, he said.
“I think we’ve done really well with it, but I’ll level with you, we’re hoping there’s a light at the end of the tunnel soon.”