SCHENECTADY — A local non-profit organization that aids teen parents in and around Schenectady County is proposing a transitional housing building at the Ellis Medicine McClellan Street campus to provide temporary housing to girls who might otherwise face homelessness.
Young Parents United of Schenectady and Ellis Medicine have jointly applied to the city for a zoning change that would allow the $7.4 million project to proceed at the corner of McClellan and Bradley streets, on a corner of the Ellis property that is now an under-used parking lot.
Schenectady County has among the highest teen pregnancy rates in the state outside New York City, according to the state Department of Health. In 2016, the most recent year available, the rate was 41.1 per 1,000 among girls ages 15-19, according to a DOH report. The state average outside the city that year was 20.5 per 1,000.
“(Teen pregnancy) is a big issue in Schenectady, and homelessness is a major, major issue, and there are not a lot of solutions,” said Ginni Evans, executive director of Young Parents United. “There are a lot of gaps in the system that don’t give the answer for what a young mother can do with a young child, and not knowing how to navigate the system.”
The McClellan Street property is the former St. Clare’s Hospital property, now owned by Ellis, but the current zoning allows only single- or double-family housing. The proposed change would rezone the land as Institutional, the same as the rest of the Ellis campus.
The City Council’s Development and Planning Committee agreed at a virtual meeting on Monday that the council should consider the application. Making the change would require a decision by the full City Council after it receives a recommendation from the city Planning Commission and a public hearing is held.
Young Parents United was founded in 2014, and began enrolling families in 2018. Its goal is to address the issues faced by teen parents, including lack of safe and stable housing.
According to a 2018 report by the National Conference of State Legislatures cited in the zoning application, 30% of teenage girls who drop out of high school cite pregnancy or parenthood as a primary cause, and fewer than 2% of teenage mothers finish college by age 30.
As an organization, Young Parents United seeks to support young families through teaching parenting skills, providing education and job skills and referrals to other services, with the goal that young parents learn self-sufficiency and achieve success. Young Parents currently has about 90 teen parents and 101 children enrolled; most are in Schenectady County, though some are in Albany County. Young Parents United said one child is autistic, and several of the parents have a mental health diagnosis.
The proposed transitional housing project would be located in a 12,000-square-foot building that would include 14 living units, each suitable for one parent and up to two children. There would also be space for organization offices, training rooms, a large service kitchen, a computer room and a “free store” where parents living there could obtain donated items. Young parents could stay in transitional housing as long as 18 months to two years, Evans said.
The proposed building would include separate wings for parents under age 16, and for those ages 16-24. Fathers can also participate in the programs.
“The temporary housing options available in the area today are extremely limited, so many of our families become homeless or are forced to remain in unsafe/unstable home environments,” according to the zoning application project narrative.
The Ellis site was selected from among several that were considered because the area is relatively safe, is located on a public transit route, and within a half-mile of a major supermarket and within a mile of the Upper Union Street shopping district, the project description said. Healthcare services are also located on the Ellis campus.
Schenectady County Social Services Commissioner Paul Brady and Mayor Gary R. McCarthy are among those who have written letters of support as Young Parents United looks for funding from the state’s Homeless Housing and Assistance Program.
“Clearly, here in Schenectady County we have a significant need not only for emergency and permanent housing options, but more, we have a specific need for housing that also provides support services to the residents so that their needs beyond just housing can be met,” Brady wrote in a support letter last year.
While funding can’t be firmed up until the zoning change is approved and the land purchased from Ellis, Evans said the organization is taking steps to be ready to build soon after it gets approvals.