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Capital Region Homeless Shelters Dealing With NY’s 32-Degree Mandate

At the turn of the year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order mandating cities statewide to give homeless people shelter when temperatures hit 32 degrees.

Here is a look at how Capital Region shelters are reacting.  

Calling into New York City radio station 1010 WINS the morning of January 3rd, Cuomo called his plan a New Year's resolution for the state.   "We all start with the New Year’s resolution that says we could be better: we could be a better person, we could be better as a society. And I signed an executive order that says in freezing conditions, people with no place to go shouldn’t be left on the street."

Cuomo promised local social services districts assistance, if they lacked facilities, resources or expertise.

Many shelters throughout the Capital Region are 24/7 facilities, which buffered the impact of the governor's mandate.    "So it certainly had more of a budget impact on some Code Blue shelters that only opened at certain temperature thresholds, and the governor raised those thresholds, which created some operating challenges."

Micheal Sacoccio,  executive director of the City Mission of Schenectady, says the shelter has actually benefitted from Cuomo's decree.   "It kinda triggered a little more coordination in the county. We've always tried to work closely in our county, but since the executive order, our department of social services has scheduled multiple meetings of providers to make sure we're all on the same page, working together. That has been good, and it secondly it also has kinda create a little more inspections coming on, and I think that's a good thing too, because we try to provide quality services, but we can always get better, and inspections can be one way of raising the level of services."

Liz Hitt, Executive Director for Homeless and Travelers Aid Society in Albany, was initially "thrilled by the governor's order," and has been working with it.    "We've been ensuring that people have someplace to go. Now, what changed for us here in Albany, we already had Code Blue, we've had that since 2010, but the trigger for us had been 10 degrees. The governor issued the order, so we changed it to 32 degrees. “

The order includes National Weather Service calculations for wind chill.  Hitt says New York has set the bar high...  "...for what should be happening across the country. I've worked in homeless services from Oregon to Colorado to New York, I've never seen anything like this. It's pace-setting. We're gonna make sure that people have someplace to go that's warm and clean. That's a good thing."

Saccocio adds that there's more to life in a shelter than lying on a cot.   "There's not a whole lot of just sitting around. It can be everything from watching a movie to playing chess or checkers. We might even try to structure some tournaments, some recreational-type things. The other thing to keep in mind with a place like City Mission, is we have both an emergency shelter, and then we have a long-term recovery program. So you really do have, on any given night in the shelter, quite a diversity of people. Some are coming in just for the night because it's freezing cold and they want to get warm. Others, men and women, have really decided 'I wanna make a life change and I'm gonna make a long term investment.’"

Saccocio says the challenges raised by serving a unique cross-section of needy people keep the Mission firmly on its service track.

The Cuomo Administration responded to a request for comment via email: “The state has worked closely with social service districts throughout New York to make sure this essential, legally required service is provided to those who need it.  Most districts have implemented the order successfully.  Districts that have questions have been asked to contact the state.  The state plans to continue working with all localities that need assistance or support in implementing the order.”

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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