GETTING TO KNOW – While his title is executive director, Duane Vaughn sees himself more as a traffic director at Shelters of Saratoga.
The non-profit provides emergency shelter, outreach and supportive housing to the homeless. The staff, which gets up to approximately 50 people during the winter months, does everything from managing the emergency shelters to serving food and helping clients find needed services.
“I have really hard-working, bright people around me and that’s why it’s successful. It’s not because of me,” Vaughn said.
It’s a tough field, but one that Vaughn has worked in for years. He grew up in Washington County and studied psychology at SUNY Oneonta before working as a teacher and counselor. He moved back to the Capital Region and became the executive director of WAIT House, a transitional and emergency shelter for youth in Glens Falls before leading Tri-county United Way for four years.
He came on board Shelters of Saratoga in the midst of the pandemic in September 2020. Since then, as the need for services the nonprofit provides has increased, it’s worked with Saratoga Saratoga and other agencies to expand and address the need. There are plans in the works to turn 5 Williams St., which is now the Saratoga Springs Senior Center, into a code blue shelter and navigation center. The current code blue shelter at 4 Adelphi St. has extended hours this season and is open 24/7.
The Gazette recently caught up with Vaughn about the services that Shelters of Saratoga offers and the challenges the nonprofit is facing.
Q: You started here in September 2020, which, with the pandemic, seems like it would be a difficult time to start. Can you speak to what that was like?
A: It affects how we may do the work. We were very careful. We had very few outbreaks. We managed them. But the job is difficult. I don’t honestly believe it made our work more difficult because [we have] a staff that’s so dedicated to the mission, and willing to commit and do the job no matter what. Nonprofits, in general, are just used to moving with what’s going on, whether it’s culturally or economically or whatever that might be. That’s just what the nature of the beast is.
I am so grateful for the staff and directors. They’re the ones who do the heavy lifting. I am blessed to be the one that directs traffic.
Q: Can you give me a rundown of the programs Shelters of Saratoga offers?
A: We have both 14 and 20 Walworth [Street as] our emergency shelters. We have code blue. We have permanent supportive housing units. We also have a motel and a hospitality house that we purchased probably two years ago that are going to be turned into permanent supportive housing. So there’s going to be nine additional permanent housing units, we’re hoping, by the end of 2023.
Q: Since you’ve been here, have you noticed an increase in homelessness?
A: Yes. Homelessness, in all appearances, is on the rise from what we see. Our code blue numbers are showing that, our shelter waitlist is showing that.
Q: Around how many people are you serving in the shelter now?
A: As of today, the shelters are full which is in the 20 range. We have [around 55] in code blue. The other night, we were only three [people] off our full capacity at cold blue already and it was November. Our capacity at code blue is 61 people and we were almost at capacity the other night.
That’s going to be [around] 7,000 meals just to come through this season because code blue is open 155-160 days a year. We’ll probably serve over 7,000 meals, all donated by this community.
Q: What have been some of the biggest challenges that you’ve experienced here?
A: Fostering healthy relationships with our city and county and state officials was important and we feel like we’ve worked hard to make them really great because they care too. Our city government and our county government care about what we do and care about our clientele. So that’s made it easier. Everybody’s really got a common goal.
I think the other thing is the culture because this is hard work, and we have to make sure that people are valued here. We have to make it a place where people want to come to work. Frankly, they see a lot of hard things every day and it doesn’t mean we can’t have fun doing what we’re doing.
Q: What have been some of the more rewarding aspects of leading the organization?
A: The celebrations. We see things every week that we can celebrate, [like] when somebody moves into their apartment when they’d been on the streets and homeless for five years or longer.
Q: Can you tell me more about the plans for the senior center building?
A: The seniors are going to the [Saratoga Regional YMCA] which opens up the senior center, which is a city-owned building. That’ll be our new permanent code blue location but the most important thing that’s going to happen with the senior center is we’re going to move navigation there.
For example, we’re doing case management this year at code blue, which is never done. So when people come in, we’re engaging them at code blue, saying ‘Hey, how can we help you from the street or code blue to rehab, to the shelter, to permanent supportive housing?’
The real goal for the senior center is not just to be the code blue location, but to be that navigation center, where, for example, if another nonprofit agency or a county agency wants to bring the services to the people, we’re going to have free space.
Veteran services, mental health services, medical services, we want to bring that all into the navigation center because if you can’t engage people in services, you’re not going to break the cycle of homelessness. You have to get them engaged and that only happens through building relationships and trust. So that’s what our focus is for next year.
Q: Is there anything about the organization that you feel people either don’t realize or misunderstand?
A: Homelessness is not just a Saratoga problem. It’s a national issue. I would find it hard to believe it’s any worse here than in any other community across the United States.
Gratefully, it’s a very giving community and for the most part, a very understanding community. But we need to have empathy and compassion and we need to care about those that are most vulnerable.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to note?
A: We’re grateful for the community for allowing us to do the work and helping us do the work. We’re grateful to our supporters, our staff and the other nonprofit agencies that we work with. They’re doing really great work. We’re grateful that we have healthy relationships [with them] – and it doesn’t it can’t happen without that.
For more information on Shelters of Saratoga, visit sheltersofsaratoga.org.