SCHENECTADY — The change on Lafayette Street is noticeable, as the City Mission of Schenectady has replaced two old houses with a tidy new building.
But the more important change is happening inside.
The Mission cut the ribbon Friday on its new transitional housing at 302 Lafayette St. It contains 10 apartments for people who’ve been living at the Mission’s homeless shelter next door but are progressing to the point of living independently.
Under the same roof as the apartments, a wellness center, fitness center and workshop provide a range of support services, and the Mission itself is next door, as is its support staff.
The 24 units of transitional housing previously built by the Mission stands directly across Lafayette for a total of 34 units.
That’s not a net gain in quantity, as the two demolished buildings contained 10 transitional units, but there’s a big jump in quality, both in the finish of the apartments and in the support services that accompany them.
“The folks that come to stay in our shelter have a long journey back to sustainability,” Mission Executive Director Michael Saccocio said. “The apartments create that next stop that allows someone to work, to pay their bills.”
Construction began in March 2021 and wrapped up a week ahead of the Dec. 31 target date. All told, the new building cost $2 million to construct, and donations covered the entire cost: It went into service in January with zero debt.
There are three one-bedroom units and seven two-bedroom units.
One of the apartments is occupied by Darlecia Scurdy, a longtime resident of the Bronx who had to stop working after an injury. She moved to Schenectady, where her mother and daughter live, and came to the Mission in February 2021.
“I got a lot of help from the Mission. I was living at the Family Life Center,” Scurdy said.
In February 2022, she and her 12-year-old son became the first occupants of one of the new apartments.
“It’s beautiful,” Scurdy said. “My son’s room, he loves it.”
She is eager to continue the transition back to fully independent living.
“I’m actually working now, which is a blessing,” she said. “I would like to get on my feet and hopefully one day move into a permanent home.”
The Mother Cabrini Foundation provided $1.7 million toward the project, covering most of the cost; a host of donors covered the rest.
David and Teresa Leon were co-chairs of the capital campaign that helped pay for the remaining costs of this and other projects. The couple also are owners of several Planet Fitness gyms, and donated equipment for the fitness center.
David Leon, who grew up a few blocks away in the Hamilton Hill neighborhood, said the project helps people help themselves, which is a personal mission of his.
Installing a gym in the basement of the transitional housing building was part of the effort to take a holistic approach to strengthening the residents, Saccocio said. To that goal, there’s also a counseling center for residents and a repair shop at which residents can get vocational training.
“I think we’ve always been very good at the physical — food, shelter, clothing — and very good at the spiritual, which is critical,” Saccocio said. “That’s the story of the mission. But now we’re making good strides in mental health, as well.
“It’s always been the struggle here,” he said. “People come in off the streets, if they have mental health needs it takes a long time to get them evaluated. We felt that if we can bring some in-house services and get that evaluation done quicker, we could create some stability and let them take advantage of our programs.”
The City Mission plans to convert the courtyard between its various buildings into a communal space for events and general relaxation. Beyond that, there are not any specific plans.
The new building at 302 Lafayette was Phase 5 of the five-part Cornerstone Project, and the Mission is fully built-out on its little downtown campus.
It could expand elsewhere — it acquired a former convent off Union Street for its Schenectady Works program in Phase 2, and it has a warehouse on Cheltingham Avenue. But Saccocio said physical expansion is not a goal.
“I like to say this: At the City Mission we don’t necessarily want to grow, we want to deepen,” he said.