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Local agencies, shelters seeing increased demand

Local agencies, shelters seeing increased demand

Hard times in 2008 meant that more people sought overnight shelters, free meals, free medical care a

Hard times in 2008 meant that more people sought overnight shelters, free meals, free medical care and other services in Schenectady County, according to human service agencies.

The City Mission of Schenectady offered 15 percent more meals and provided 23 percent more nights of shelter to people in 2008 than in 2007, Executive Director Michael Saccocio said Wednesday. This is the first time the agency has reported its annual statistics.

“The reason why we did it is that I was really struck by the significant increase in the numbers,” Saccocio said.

Saccocio expects the situation to get worse this year, saying that the tight job market is forcing people to use shelter services for longer periods.

“People are having a harder time finding work, and that creates a bottle-necking effect,” he said. “There is a normal flow through shelters, but it is harder for people to find jobs in the short time.”

Margaret Anderton, executive director of Bethesda House on Liberty Street, said that over the past six months, 2,500 more people made their first visit to Bethesda House for help. This is in addition to the 7,000 first visits Bethesda House sees annually. Bethesda House’s fiscal year ends during the summer.

“We are seeing more and more people coming in for emergency food and clothing. We have people coming in who are facing homelessness for the first time or are behind in their rent or are laid off from a job,” Anderton said. “Some are coming in for information, and we hook them up with other agencies.”

Saccocio said that for some people, the daily City Mission meal is their only one. City Mission served 143,143 meals in 2008, compared to 124,534 in 2007, and it provided 26,062 nights of shelter in 2008, up from 21,174 the year before.

The City Mission is a nonprofit ministry on Hamilton Street with a 66-bed emergency shelter for men, a 37-bed shelter for women and children and an emergency shelter for women. It also operates a medical clinic, thrift store, food service and community outreach program.

Anderton said Bethesda House has seen its average daily census increase from 195 people to 235.

“The number of meals served every day has increased. Today, it was standing room only,” she said.

Bethesda House is a nondenominational nonprofit that provides daytime hospitality and safe haven services to the homeless, to people with physical or mental disabilities, to people with substance abuse issues and to the working poor. It does not operate an emergency shelter.

Saccocio said high fuel prices, which topped $4 per gallon during the summer before settling down to less than $2 per gallon now, “wiped out any cushion people had, so as the year progressed, it got harder and harder to make ends meet.”

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