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Cold drives shelter demand

Cold drives shelter demand

Without a steady job or a place to stay, Tim Palmer came to the City Mission of Schenectady Friday a

Without a steady job or a place to stay, Tim Palmer came to the City Mission of Schenectady Friday and Saturday night to escape the cold.

Temperatures approached zero degrees Fahrenheit Saturday night and were lower with the wind chill, according to the National Weather Service’s Albany office.

Palmer said he does jobs for a temp agency but has no place to stay because of problems in his personal life.

“We got divorced. I got thrown out,” Palmer said. “I needed someplace to stay until I got back on my feet.”

He turned to the City Mission on Hamilton Street.

“There’s board games, a TV, coffee. There’s always something to do here,” he said.

Michael Saccocio, the executive director for the City Mission of Schenectady, said that his organization operates one shelter for men and another more long-term shelter for women and children. He said that the men’s facility has dormitory-style living quarters that can comfortably accommodate 65, but he expects the men’s shelter to take in more than 70 men during these cold winter nights.

“We saw it last week with that surge of cold weather where we had more people than we had beds available. It moderated this week with the weather, and we’re gearing up for another spike tonight,” Saccocio said Saturday night.

The City Mission’s 37-bed shelter for women and children has a more stable population, although Saccocio said that it actually had a case of a woman and child needing emergency lodging last week.

Hugh Johnson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said that this year, January has been colder than it has in the past few years

“We have averaged so far this January four degrees colder than normal. It’s the coldest January at least since 2005, if not 2004,” Johnson said. “But as cold as it’s been ... we’ve had three very mild Januaries in a row, so this is payback time.”

cold and hungry

Saccocio said that the cold weather coupled with the economic downturn have led to greater numbers of men seeking emergency shelter. He said that the City Mission offered 15 percent more meals and provided 23 percent more nights of shelter to people in 2008 than in 2007.

“In 2007, we had approximately 21,000 nights of lodging in our two shelters. In 2008, we had over 26,000. On the meals side, we served 123,000 meals in 2007 and 143,000 in 2008,” Saccocio said. “We’re clearly seeing an uptick that began more economy- than weather-related. In the shelter, what we’re seeing is guys can’t get out as quickly because jobs are harder to find.”

Sam George is a shift leader at the City Mission. He said he works with the men who come seeking shelter.

“Usually they’ve just lost a job or they’ve had a fight with a wife, domestic problems at home. It could be somebody who was staying outside and it got too cold and they just couldn’t do it any more,” he said.

There were multiple charitable efforts going on Saturday to help the poor endure the cold. Charlie Muller, the pastor at Victory Church at 118 Quail St. in Albany, said that his church gave away 300 winter coats Saturday in Arbor Hill. He said that his church collects donated coats, gloves, hats and scarves every year, but this year the need was greater and so was the generosity.

“I think we gave out 100 adult coats today and 200 children’s coats. As a matter of fact, within an hour, they were all [taken]. We just had so many people come,” Muller said.

“We had a lot of them purchased and donated, so a lot of them were new. We must have had over 100 new jackets. Sometimes a teenager would rather wear a skimpy coat that’s cool than a heavier coat, so that’s why we made sure we had new ones.”

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