SARATOGA SPRINGS-While plans to move forward with creating a 24/7 low-barrier homeless shelter in the city near Saratoga Central Catholic School have been tabled for now the location, 5 Williams St., is still an option the city’s new task force on homelessness will consider.
“They’re going to look at whether there are places available,” said Mayor Ron Kim, while holding a map outlining where a homeless shelter could possibly go during a meeting Thursday night with parents of Saratoga Catholic Central School students.
The meeting between around 70 parents and the mayor comes after many parents raised concerns over a proposal to put a homeless shelter at 5 Williams St., which is near the school, even sharing over 200 feet of property line.
Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany Superintendent of Schools Giovanni Virgiglio, who led the meeting, said the proposal has created a lot of unease in the school community.
“As a Catholic community we are committed to the need to address homelessness in our neighborhoods with care, passion and concern,” he said. “At the same time as a Catholic institution of learning, whose mission is to educate the next generation in a safe and welcoming atmosphere, we need to ensure our students’ safety cannot come at the risk of trying to resolve another serious concern.”
Kim began by explaining where things stand with the shelter after Shelters of Saratoga, which operates a Code Blue shelter in the city, backed out of plans to operate the shelter on Williams Street a couple weeks ago.
Since then the mayor has formed a task force aimed at determining the needs of the community, where a shelter can go and who would operate it. That task force is made up of several people ranging from those with real estate background to the associate executive director of RISE Healthy Housing and Support Services. During the meeting Kim announced that Supervisor Tara Gaston recently chose Andrea Love Smith, who was homeless at one point, to sit on the task force. Commissioners Jason Golub and James Montagnino are anticipated to announce whom they want to sit on the task force this coming week.
Kim said he is “hopeful but not confident” the task force will be able to find another location for the shelter that isn’t near the school.
“We’ve done this three times folks,” he said. “Three times there have been places that have been chosen by the city to house a homeless shelter –they’ve all been stopped and that’s one of the problems we’re going to have almost anywhere we go.”
But, Kim said, he’s willing to hear ideas and so will the task force.
“Happy to get your suggestions, but again it can’t be in Spa State Park — it’s just not usable for us.”
During the meeting Virgiglio posed questions to the mayor such as whether the city had thought about selling 5 Williams St. and using the money from the sale to outfit a different location.
“Yes,” Kim said. “Not formally, but we’ve had some discussions. We’ve also had discussions about our parking garages. One of the issues is of course once we figure out OK that’s a place we can do it, what kind of money do we have to raise.”
Parents were able to ask a few questions of their own.
“Say a homeless or unhoused person comes and they have no ID, do they get turned away, what happens then?” asked parent Adele Mazzotti.
Kim said the person would not necessarily get turned away.
“That’s one of those issues where it depends on what kind of condition they are in and if there are other needs that could be addressed at another facility,” Kim said.
The answer led to another person stating the city has no way of ensuring that someone on the sex offender registry wouldn’t end up at the shelter.
Kim said many of the homeless are known to organizations in the area and that whoever runs the shelter would be able to search them on the internet or through the sex offender registry.
Parent Joel Pasqualino asked how the mayor would ensure that parents could freely express their ideas and thoughts to the task force. His comment came following a recent council meeting during which parents felt ridiculed by pro-shelter residents and then the meeting was closed down because a Black Live Matter member refused to yield the microphone.
Kim said any parent of the school who wanted to have a one-on-one conversation could call him to set one up. The task force meetings will be open to the public.
Following the meeting Virgiglio said he thought it went well and he plans to attend the task force meetings.