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In Albany, concern about elementary students’ safety near Capital City Rescue Mission

Beds at the Capital City Rescue Mission
Capital City Rescue Mission
Beds at the Capital City Rescue Mission

A planned expansion of Albany's Capital City Rescue Mission on South Pearl Street has raised concern among some neighbors.

In a letter to state, county, and local officials, Albany County Legislator Sam Fein joined parents of Giffen Memorial School students in saying the school community faces “Panhandling, public urination, people sleeping or nodding off on the sidewalks, and a constant stream of litter including liquor bottles and drug paraphernalia... everyday... on or near the school grounds of Giffen Elementary.” The letter cited a recent incident involving "people associated with" the mission.

Liz Richards is the parent of a school kindergartener.

"This wouldn't be tolerated in other neighborhoods in our city," Richards said.

City School Superintendent Kaweeda Adams:

“We clearly understand is that the community is very concerned about the potential expansion of the City Mission," said Adams. "And as a school district, we are committed to the safety and well-being of our students, faculty, staff and families. We know that this is a much larger issue with our families, because they have expressed a consistent concern.”

Adams says there was an incident where someone approached students, and her office has been working with Albany Police and Chief Eric Hawkins :

"We've been doing a lot of work. We've been working very closely with the school down there, with Giffen," Hawkins said. "Our officers are more engaged, more understanding of what the issues are."

Fein, a Democrat who represents the 6th District, is calling on the Albany Planning Board to reject the Mission’s proposed $6 million expansion in its current location, which includes a dormitory capable of housing more than 200 people.

"We want the county to take a greater role in providing mental health services and facilitating the construction of transitional housing and making sure that we can actually help people who are homeless get into permanent housing," Fein said. "We want more lighting on the street in front the school. We want police officers stationed outside the school during pickup and dropoff. And we want the Mission to be a better partner…”

Albany Common Council President Corey Ellis agrees.

"From our point of view it's unfortunate that a City Mission was put in that location years ago," Ellis said. "We feel it’s not appropriate to be there next to a school, and something needs to be done about that."

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy issued a statement welcoming further discussion on the issue while noting the county offers many programs and services the unhoused can benefit from through its County Health and Mental Health Departments, directly across the street from the Mission.

Neighbors say they understand the need for counseling, mental health and addiction services, but argue there is oversaturation in the South End, that services need more even distribution region-wide.

Mission director Perry Jones, in a virtual appearance Wednesday night on the Mansion Neighborhood's monthly meeting, said the Mission needs to expand and build an addition to get about 100 people off of mats on the floor into beds.

"We'll also add to the space so that we can take care of people inside the building better by having more sit down space inside more dayroom space, so they can stay with us all day long, which many of them do right now," Jones said. "But there's not the space needed to do that. And then to have some activity areas in that building for them during the day."

Misson expansion plans are under review by the Albany Planning Board.

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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