Up until about six years ago, Montgomery County had no homeless shelter to house its indigent population. And while the county’s solution to that problem — Danielle’s House in Amsterdam —may be smaller than its counterparts in less rural counties, officials in Montgomery County feel confident in the system that’s been put in place, even as plunging temperatures and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Code Blue edict drive more homeless to seek shelter.
“Danielle’s House is a small shelter; we depend on the city and the community quite a bit, but we’re always going to find a way to make it work,” said Erin Coufal, a spokeswoman for the Albany-based Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless, which owns and administers Danielle’s House.
Indeed, the city this year upped their financial commitment to the shelter by $2,000 annually.
The shelter, at 218 E. Main St. in Amsterdam, has room for eight individuals in permanent and transitional housing and another eight spaces on its first floor set aside for emergency housing.
Coufal said right now the shelter is at capacity, due in part to the frigid weather that’s recently descended on the Capital Region.
“There are some people that are happy to be outside when it’s warmer but especially recently when it dips down and gets colder, they need help,” said Coufal. “We have been full every night but also have emergency beds and have some individuals staying on the couch if need be in response to cold weather.”
And while Cuomo’s Code Blue directive, which requires the homeless to be sheltered when temperatures fall below freezing, does increase demand for space at other area shelters where the need is greater, such as in Saratoga Springs, Coufal said at Danielle’s House, “we treat every winter night as if it’s a Code Blue.”
“That wouldn’t really change the way we’re doing things; whether it’s 32 degrees out or 40 degrees, if someone comes and they need a place to stay for the night, we’re going to make it happen,” she said.
The winter months do put a strain on resources at Danielle’s House, she added, but there are contingencies for those seeking shelter in Montgomery County if there isn’t room at the shelter or if the shelter isn’t a good fit for a particular individual.
“We take care of everyone,” said Coufal. “We’ve been able to make it work every night so far.”
One of those contingencies, according to Montgomery County Department of Social Services Commissioner Michael McMahon, is to house any overflow in local hotels.
“We would send overflow to hotels, and we have four that we work with in the county that have never turned us away,” said McMahon.
There’s also a half-dozen Code Blue warming stations at locations throughout the county, including in Amsterdam, Canajoharie, Fultonville, Fort Plain and St. Johnsville.
McMahon said the county makes sleeping arrangements for anyone who spends the day at a warming station and doesn’t have a place to go at night.
“What happens, and this is rare, is if someone was at a warming center when it closes we’ll coordinate to get them into a shelter or hotel,” said McMahon.
The county is also focused on finding permanent housing for any homeless who take advantage of their services. The Interfaith Partnership said that last year, of the 85 people who sought housing with the Montgomery County’s homeless services, more than half moved into a positive living environment.
The origin of Danielle’s House also came with the creation of the Danielle’s House Committee, which meets year-round and has as members county officials, including McMahon, as well as individuals from Interfaith Partnership, Deptartment of Social Services, Catholic Charities, Liberty ARC and St. Mary’s Healthcare.
“It’s a long-standing committee, we meet every month, it’s been a real success story for a county that didn’t have a shelter six years ago,” said McMahon. “I think in a small county it works very well. . . . It’s become a pretty stable operation.”
Amsterdam Police Chief Greg Culick said the department is also integrated into this system. They recently handled a case where a homeless family came to them for help and Danielle’s House was full to capacity.
“We normally call DSS and they set up any overflow people at the Valley View [Motor Inn],” said Culick in an email. “They did so this past weekend and the process went very smoothly.”
As for Code Blue, Culick said the department has yet to physically move any homeless people into a shelter in freezing temperatures (which the governor’s executive order authorizes), but that if someone did refuse shelter they could do so under the state’s mental hygiene law for a person who is a danger to themselves.
If all else fails, said Culick, homeless people have occasionally camped out in the lobby of the police station on Guy Park Extension.
“Homeless persons usually stay in the police station lobby during cold snaps until shelter arrangements are made,” he said.