SARATOGA SPRINGS — Several members of the newly formed Task Force on Homelessness were named during a special City Council meeting Thursday evening.
The new panel will be responsible for determining the city’s needs in terms of homelessness, finding a place for a homeless shelter and choosing an organization to oversee operations. The task force’s first meeting, which will be open to the public, is set for 6 p.m. Feb. 28.
The establishment of the task force comes after Shelters of Saratoga recently announced that it would not be going through with plans to operate a Code Blue shelter at 5 Williams St.. The announcement followed concerns being expressed by Saratoga Central Catholic School parents and other community members, as well as threats to SOS Executive Director Duane Vaughn and Board President Kathy McNeice, over plans for the facility to be used as a 24/7 low-barrier shelter.
The co-chairs of the Task Force on Homelessness will be Presbyterian-United Church of Christ Rev. Kate Forer and Tom Roohan of Roohan Realty.
“The pastor will bring a perspective and an energy and commitment of our faith communities to the efforts of this task force,” city Mayor Ron Kim said at the Thursday meeting.
Presbyterian-United Church of Christ, formerly Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church, was one of the first locations that code blue was held in the city when it was formally established around a decade ago. The church’s governing board admonished those against having a low-barrier shelter in a letter sent to The Gazette Wednesday.
@dgazette Saratoga Springs officials name picks for task force on homelessness – 2/10/23 – Story at DailyGazette.com – Daily Gazette
“As a Christian church, we admonish the behaviors of those who threatened and bullied while having the privilege of shelter and warmth,” the letter states. “Furthermore, we remind our community that to be Christian means to make sacrifices for the vulnerable among us and to love all our neighbors, including those experiencing homelessness.”
Kim said Roohan, a longtime player in the real estate business and the community at large, will be a valuable asset to the task force as it determines the best location for a shelter.
“One of the things we’re going to be looking at is real estate and I can’t think of somebody more qualified to help us in understanding where we could possibly site a shelter,” he said.
During the public comment session of the meeting, RISE Executive Director Sybil Newell said her organization looks forward to being part of a solution in the effort to address homelessness.
“RISE has been witnessing the homelessness situation evolve and we have seen what has worked and what hasn’t,” she said. “We cannot solve the congregation of homeless individuals like a public nuisance, like graffiti to be erased. These are human beings, each with a different story, different fears, desires, talents and struggles. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, so the response must be multi-faceted and comprehensive.”
RISE Associate Executive Director Lindsey Connors said in an interview Wednesday you have to meet people where they’re at.
“Just because somebody is not ready to perhaps engage in that level of programming or to work on their sobriety yet doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve a roof over their head – that is inhumane,” she said.
She also said that low-barrier doesn’t mean people at the shelter would be drinking or using drugs.
“A low-barrier shelter simply means you don’t have to be engaging in any kind of programming necessarily to be able to access the shelter,” she said. “It does not mean people are permitted to use drugs on site – that’s not what that means.”
Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran and Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi, as well as county Supervisor Matt Veitch ,also provided picks for the task force. Department of Public Works Commissioner Jason Golub, Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino and Supervisor Tara Gaston are all anticipated to announce people for the task force at the council’s Feb. 22 meeting.
Gaston also spoke during the meeting Thursday about the issue.
“It’s important to realize that the parents’ fears are real and ok and logical and justifiable,” she said. “ It’s ok to say I’m scared. It’s ok to say I’m not sure what’s going on. It’s ok to say something weird is going to happen that hasn’t happened before and I don’t know how to deal with it, but I would ask everybody in our community to realize that’s what some people are dealing with on a daily basis.”
Gaston said the county wants to be part of future discussions regarding the shelter since it is mandated to provide Code Blue. She also said the county would not back any plan that put people in danger and that there are policies and procedures in place at the county level to prevent such instances.
Montagnino said that there is a sex offender registry that can be checked and a division of the Police Department is tasked with routinely checking on the status of every registered sex offender.
He also said there is a provision in state law that makes it a crime for a sex offender of a particular level or one whose victim was a child to reside even for a night within 1,000 feet of a school.
During Tuesday’s public comment period many of the speakers who addressed the council supported the idea of a homeless shelter.
“When you think of your kids and grandkids the Woodlawn [parking] garage doesn’t enter your mind and why should it?” said Dia Kaufman. “You don’t want that to be your kid’s future, no one’s parents ever did and while homelessness is not an inevitability, it is a possibility.”
Saratoga Central Catholic parent Brian Crowe urged the City Council Thursday not to place a homeless shelter near any school. He said that a homeless man urinated on him and exposed himself downtown during the day while he was with his children. He said he’s seen drug use by people who are homeless and he’s also seen them bathing in Congress Park.
“Is this going to happen all the time?,” he said. “No, it’s not, but why would we take that chance that this is going to happen next to a school.”
His comments come after the Albany Diocese Superintendent Giovanni Virgiglio said parents of the school should be part of conversations involving the homeless shelter.
“We condemn any acts of violence or threats of violence against any of those who are looking to bring resolution to a very important issue,” he said Tuesday. “At the same time to dismiss the concerns of parents and not invite them to a dialogue where they can be educated on this issue, informed on this issue and be part of the solutions to serve a very important purpose in this city is a missed opportunity.”
Homelessness Task Force members so far
Co-chair: Kate Forer, reverend at Presbyterian-United Church of Christ
Co-chair: Tom Roohan, Roohan Realty
Member: Lindsey Connors, associate director of RISE Housing and Support Services
Member: Dean Devito, principal at Prime Companies
Member: Jules D’Angelo, activist and formerly homeless
Member: Margaret Fronk, executive director of Wellspring
Member: Hannah Hurley, co-chair of the housing committee with Capital District Democratic Socialist of America
Member: Sherie Grinter, runs Saratoga Stronger
Member: Stephen Towne, former commissioner of accounts, former Shelters of Saratoga Board president