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Colder weather heats up demand for shelter

Colder weather heats up demand for shelter

With bitter cold moving in, beds filled up fast at Soul Saving Station.
Colder weather heats up demand for shelter
Ralph Weddle reads a newspaper at the Code Blue shelter Thursday.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
With temperatures dipping below 20 degrees and snow falling, Ralph Weddle found warmth in the basement of Soul Saving Station on Henry Street.
The Code Blue shelter was a little cramped, but staying there for the night beat the alternative.
“Out in a tent somewhere,” Weddle, 59, said of where he’d be without it.
“They’re great,” he added. “They always try to help here.”
Weddle stayed at the 41-bed shelter last year when it was located at the Salvation Army, which housed 60 beds, and said the new location is “just a little bit tighter, and we don’t have the showers here.”
But the food is just as good, he said.
“Real good,” he said. “They have the local restaurants that feed us meals every night.”
Nearly every bed was filled Thursday night as bitter cold hit the Capital Region, with low temperatures expected to continue today. After the Salvation Army said it could not longer meet the needs of the Code Blue program earlier this year, prompting a search for a new home, the no-questions-asked shelter opened at Soul Saving Station on Nov. 6 and has been open 27 nights — far more than the five nights it had opened at this time during last year’s mild winter. The shelter opened 88 nights total last year.
The colder weather along with a combination of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order in January requiring the homeless to be sheltered when temperatures dip below 32 degrees all contributed to the increased demand for the shelter.
And while some local shelters have said the 32-degree Code Blue order expired with the summer, Michael Finocchi, executive director of Shelters of Saratoga, said he expects the mandate to be renewed, and the Saratoga Springs shelter continues to follow it.
“It’s inevitable,” he said. “I think all providers believe it’s going to come out.”
Increased demand means an increased need for volunteers, food and supplies and, most of all, monetary donations, said Finocchi, whose organization runs the Code Blue program.
He said the nonprofit has raised $11,000 toward its fundraising goal of $85,000, which is needed to keep the shelter open throughout the winter months. The shelter’s about-$160,000 budget includes salaries for four recent hires brought on to meet the increased demand. 
“We’re always looking for volunteers, but monetary donations are huge because we don’t get any funding for this program except for a small amount to go toward my director’s salary,” he said.
The shelter was busy Thursday afternoon with volunteers and staff bringing in food and warm-weather items. After carrying in sleeping bags, jackets and blankets donated by Shelters of Saratoga, volunteer Dan Shields talked with Cheryl Ann Murphy-Parant, the program’s on-site director, about the need for more helping hands. He told her to call him anytime help was needed; she said she would.
“Thank you for what you do,” he said.
“I can’t do it without you guys,” she replied. “Well, I can, but it gets really tiring really quickly.” 
Shields, of Saratoga Springs, has been volunteering since the program started in 2013 and said he helps out as often as he can, “even if it’s just to pick up the mail and deliver it here.”
“At Code Blue, you do whatever’s necessary at that moment,” he said. “And you have to be flexible.”
Murphy-Parant said she has a core group of about 50 volunteers but could use more — especially now during the busy holiday season with temperatures dropping.
“One of the biggest things is volunteers, and I’m hoping that some of it is because of the holiday season, never having been open this much,” she said. “If it’s going to stay below 32 during the day, we stay open, too, so it’s getting the volunteers used to the schedule and actually getting the volunteers, because this time of year there’s so much going on.”
Even with a smaller space to manage, volunteers are needed “for safety reasons” and to make sure guests “get the best possible care,” Murphy-Parant said.
Her efforts to coordinate it all have not gone unnoticed by those making the shelter home on cold nights.
“Over on my makeshift desk over there is a ‘thank you’ card that they gave me the other night, so it really makes it all worthwhile,” she said.
Murphy-Parant said the new location has been working out, although the smaller space has presented some challenges — mainly the lack of showers. Shelter staff have been referring people to the Salvation Army as well as Shelters of Saratoga on Walworth Street, where showers are available, she said.
“There have been hiccups, . . . it’s difficult because it’s a smaller space, but we’re getting there,” she said.
The 41-bed shelter is also close to capacity — averaging 36 guests per night — and is working on a contingency plan with Saratoga Hospital, the police department and other organizations to make sure anyone who needs a place to stay on a frigid night has one, she said.
“I’ll never leave somebody out in the cold,” she said.
The new location at Caroline and Henry streets, close to restaurants, the Caroline Street bar district and the Children’s Museum, drew some criticism from neighbors when it was announced, but Murphy-Parant said most of the neighbors have been welcoming so far. 
“We’ve had a couple of the neighbors comment that their neighborhood is actually safer because we do have [police] patrols,” she said. “They’re in the neighborhood a little more than they used to be.”
The new site also comes with a new curfew that prevents guests from leaving after 11 p.m., though people coming in off the street aren’t turned away, Finocchi said.
“It’s going alright,” he said, adding there will be issues wherever the shelter is located. “But it’s in a bar district, so most of the issues come from the people utilizing the bars, not the homeless population.”
To volunteer: Visit www.codebluesaratoga.org/ or call Cheryl Ann Murphy-Parant at 812-6886.
To donate: Send checks marked “Code Blue” to Shelters of Saratoga, 14 Walworth St, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866, or visit www.sheltersofsaratoga.org.
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