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Capital Region shelters offer homeless a warm welcome

Capital Region shelters offer homeless a warm welcome

Emi finally has a real winter coat.
Capital Region shelters offer homeless a warm welcome
Ten-year-old Nicholas, a City Mission resident, shows photos he took of the snowy roads and uncleared sidewalks that make walking to school difficult and dangerous.

Emi finally has a real winter coat.

“It fits. It’s warm. It’s a silly thing that people take for granted. It’s a simple thing, but I’m so proud of it,” said the YWCA resident, who asked not to have her real name in print.

Until she received the donation a few days ago, all that the woman had to protect her from the elements was a button-down shirt with a fleece lining.

“And then the buttons went on it,” she said with a laugh.

Emi gets around with the help of a walker and obtains transportation from Medi-Cab. After a recent snowstorm, Washington Avenue, where the Y is located, was closed for snow removal.

“They had to drop me off at the corner and I had to walk. I literally had to put my walker up over the snowbank,” she said.

People who don’t have heavy outerwear, a car to drive or a warm place to seek shelter are struggling during this freezing February.

The cold is forecast to persist at least for the rest of the week, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Kevin Lipton.

Highs are not predicted to top 20, and nighttime temperatures will be in the single digits at best.

“With the drop in temperatures, it’s devastating. There are many more people that we’ve found are without a place to stay,” said Kimarie Sheppard, executive director of Bethesda House, a Schenectady-based ministry to the homeless.

Bethesda House’s entrance has a heated vestibule that’s open at all times. There’s room for two people to take shelter from the elements there, when Bethesda’s other doors are locked for the night.

“When the people are in the entrance, we provide blankets and pillows and see what their situation is. Last night, a woman showed up without a warm coat or warm clothes,” Sheppard said. “We called [the Department of Social Services]. We were told DSS had a place for her in a hotel, but it wasn’t in Schenectady. She didn’t have a way to get there, so she found her way to Bethesda House.”

On days when there are snowstorms, people are reluctant to come out for the free daily meal offered at Bethesda House, Sheppard said. So, shelter workers have been assembling dinner bags that include soup, sandwiches and cut-up vegetables donated by local congregations, and delivering them on the streets.

The Code Blue Saratoga emergency shelter, which opens when temperatures fall below 20 degrees or there’s a snowfall greater than a foot, has been open for 26 days straight.

Volunteers willing to staff the shelter late at night have been difficult to find, said Cheryl Ann Murphy-Parant, Code Blue Saratoga’s coordinator.

The shelter opens at 7 p.m. and closes at 8 a.m. on weekdays and at 9 a.m. on weekends. Those who use the service have asked that the hours be expanded.

“It’s hard to find places to go [during the day] where they’re welcome, and so we try to make sure that they have gloves and hand warmers, extra socks, anything that we can provide before they go out,” Murphy-Parant said.

The City Mission of Schenectady has lately been providing a warm sleeping place for about 100 men, women and children every night.

“The extreme cold has changed the dynamic, because it will bring out folks who normally don’t want to be in shelters, that aren’t looking for a program, or for really long-term change. But we know it’s a role we have to play for the community on these extreme nights — to keep on making room. So, it’s mats on the floor and always trying to keep a closet full of coats,” said Michael Saccocio, the City Mission’s executive director. “You just do whatever it takes to keep people warm and give people a chance — at least a chance for the next day, at least a chance for springtime.”

City Mission resident Mike Brown spent time on Schenectady’s streets years ago, often seeking shelter at the Greyhound Bus Station downtown to keep warm.

“A lot of men stay by the waterfront in the Stockade. They might have a tent,” he said.

Esther Diaz’s 10-year-old son, Nicholas, takes a city bus on his own, then walks several blocks to get to school. Lately, he’s had to walk in the street because sidewalks aren’t clear.

“I worry about him all the time,” said Diaz, a City Mission resident. “I pray all the time. I don’t even want to think something will happen.”

City Mission resident Seagan Soobrian-Aziz has been working for Labor Ready in Schenectady, often unloading tractor-trailers in the cold.

There are times when the outerwear he has access to isn’t adequate to keep him warm while he works, but he shrugged that off.

“A job is a job,” he said.

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