SARATOGA SPRINGS - The question of how to help the homeless population in Saratoga Springs is a complex one, as the New England Congregational-Presbyterian Church is discovering anew.
The church's tentative plan to convert its Nolan House into a permanent Code Blue winter homeless shelter has run into concerns and criticisms from neighbors, who say they already have issues with the homeless who gather on the church property.
Some neighbors have posted signs on their properties objecting to the idea of the church providing shelter.
Church Pastor Kate Forer said the church is taking the concerns of the neighbors "to heart," while also trying to live up to what the congregation sees as a Christian commitment to care for the disadvantaged.
"Being people of good conscience, we cannot let 55 people sleep outdoors during the winter," Forer said.
About 55 people per night used the city's Code Blue shelter last winter.
For now, the church is moving forward on the assumption it may be the city's primary Code Blue shelter for the coming winter, after Nolan House served as a backup shelter for the last two winters.
The city's Code Blue winter shelter program, started in 2012 after a homeless woman died sleeping on a downtown loading dock, provides immediate no-questions shelter to the homeless when night temperatures fall below 32 degrees.
Code Blue has struggled to find a permanent home, using church or religious organization facilities each winter while looking for a permanent site. Efforts to locate a permanent shelter on Walworth Street, next to the Shelters of Saratoga facility, ran into neighborhood opposition that ended with a court last September ruling against the shelter.
For the last three winters, Code Blue -- which is run by Shelters of Saratoga -- has had its primary shelter at the Soul Saving Station church basement, with the New England Congregational-Presbyterian Church providing backup with up to 20 beds. But Soul Saving Station is repurposing the space, and it isn't expected to be available for this coming winter.
The Congregational-Presbyterian church has had a long-term commitment to aid the homeless and disadvantaged, providing a soup kitchen meal seven days a week since the 1980s and emergency aid.
Those services have meant some homeless gather around the church at Circular Street and Park Place. Forer, who has been at the church three years, said she wasn't aware until a recent meeting with the neighbors how many concerns there were about the homeless population at and around the church.
As far as making the Nolan House a permanent homeless shelter, Forer said: "We have hit the pause button, we really want to take a look at what we can do to be better neighbors."
At the same time, the church is looking at what it can do to provide shelter for at least the upcoming winter, and the congregation is forming a committee to look at whether there should be a city or county solution to the problem of homelessness in a city better-known for its resort economy and high housing prices.
"If we don't want a homeless shelter in a residential neighborhood, then we need to figure out what we are going to do about it," Forer said. "We will do a lot of work over the summer with our neighbors. November is going to be here before we know it. We are committed to finding a place for people to stay in the winter."