Schenectady

YWCA struggling to keep up amid increased service demand, lack of employees

YWCA of Schenectady CEO Kim Siciliano stands inside one of the historic corridors at 44 Washington Avenue in the Stockade of Schenectady Monday, January 24, 2022.
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YWCA of Schenectady CEO Kim Siciliano stands inside one of the historic corridors at 44 Washington Avenue in the Stockade of Schenectady Monday, January 24, 2022.

SCHENECTADY — Faced with staff shortages and growing demand for services, the YWCA of Northeastern NY, which provides services to domestic violence victims, has been struggling to keep up.

The nonprofit organization has been working to meet a 20% increase for its services since the pandemic took root nearly two years ago with fewer staff members than before. As a result, the organization has had to turn away people seeking various services on a daily basis, according to Kim Siciliano, CEO of the YWCA.

“With COVID, especially the omicron variant, we’ve had a number of quarantines, we’ve had a number of staff out and we’ve had a number of staff that have moved on to different positions because they know there’s this great opportunity out there for people looking for new jobs,” she said.

The recently exacerbated hiring struggles can be traced back years and mirror those facing the nonprofit service sector across the country: Low wages, coupled with high-stress jobs are deterring people from entering the field and chasing away those currently doing the work in droves.

At the YWCA, the organization’s domestic violence shelter, which provides around-the-clock support for up to 20 people at a time, is currently operating with seven employees, far below the 13 needed to properly run the facility, Siciliano said.

The shelter serves around 600 people annually, half of which are children.

To compensate for the lack of staff, workers have been pulled in from across the organization to cover shifts, including those on the management level, further straining an organization that in recent weeks has been sent reeling by the highly infectious omicron variant.

Numerous employees have been forced to miss work after testing positive or being exposed to the virus, and the organization has had to scramble to find housing options for individuals in order to quarantine those already in the shelter after testing positive.

“We are being very creative in getting coverage by cross-training employees that can work at the shelter and maybe at the front desk,” she said. “That is helping to a certain degree, but not helping in getting new people hired.”

The YWCA has received more than $200,000 in federal funding through the CARES Act, a COVID-relief bill approved by Congress in 2020, which has been used to fund its rapid rehousing program and shelter services.

But with a lack of viable rehousing options in the city making it difficult to rehouse individuals, the organization has transferred $40,000 from the rehousing program to bolster wages at its shelter in an effort to attract new workers. The City Council, which administered the CARES Act money, approved the request at its meeting Monday night.

Siciliano said the organization is planning to apply for additional funding to support its shelter services, including funding made available through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant program as well as funds the city and country received under the American Rescue Plan Act, the $1.9 trillion COVID-relief bill passed last year.

The YWCA is currently seeking $750,000 in ARPA funds from the city to help fund capital improvements at its Washington Avenue headquarters as well as cover site work needed to build a 54-unit supportive housing complex at its headquarters. Both projects have been in the works for months, Siciliano said.

She added that the organization is in the process of fundraising to help cover the costs of a $1 million shelter that will take the place of the current facility, which is rented. The new shelter is move-in ready and includes a commercial kitchen, room for offices and a spacious backyard.

But while the YWCA navigates its future, it’s left with trying to meet the growing demand and uncertainties associated with the pandemic.

The YWCA typically serves around 7,000 a year, but the numbers have grown to around 8,500 this past year, said Siciliano, who noted that services were operating at capacity prior to the pandemic.

She estimated that around 20% of those reaching out are redirected to other services, which she said are facing similar circumstances.

All facets of the organization, including domestic violence and mental health services, as well as childcare programs, have been impacted.

“Early learning we have to turn parents away on a weekly basis saying we don’t have space for your child,” Silicano said. “At the domestic violence shelter right now, we’re in the middle of a quarantine and we are not accepting new clients and we have people calling saying I need domestic violence services and we’re sending them to other shelters.

“There’s a definite need in our community and there’s a definite struggle to serve everyone who is in need.”

Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.  

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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