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Saratoga Code Blue Adapts To New Mandate

Supplies inside a former Code Blue Saratoga shelter
Paulina Phelps
Donated clothing lines the storage area at the Salvation Army building on Woodlawn Avenue

On a recent cold February night, the Saratoga Springs Code Blue program was in full operation. Before the doors opened at 7, a crowd was already waiting outside.

The shelter on Woodlawn Avenue at the local Salvation Army building has been operating for the past three seasons.

Cameron, who is homeless, said he worries during the day about where he will stay at night.

“I try to deal with the cold, try to stay warm. I stay up all night trying to stay warm. It’s rough. It’ll wear you down real quick.”

At Code Blue, those who come in are offered a hot meal and a warm bed, no questions asked.

“I mean, it’s got me warm, got me fed, got me toiletries, how shower. It’s really filled a necessary niche, you know what I mean?” said Cameron.

Code Blue Saratoga depends on its team of volunteers. Jack Sullivan was helping check people in.

“It’s amazing the people that you see hear and some of their stories, and just the feeling of being able to help in some small way.”

But Code Blue Saratoga, like other programs around the state, is facing challenges because of a new rule imposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo on January 3rd.

Under the executive order, emergency shelters must open their doors whenever temperatures dip below freezing. Traditionally, Code Blue Saratoga has opened its doors at 20 degrees or during inclement weather.

Michael Finocchi, executive director of Shelters of Saratoga, the organization that oversees Code Blue Saratoga, says it’s difficult keeping up with the increased traffic and need for volunteers.

“It’s a lot easier for a Schenectady, an Albany, or a Troy to do that at 32 degrees because they already have 24-hour facilities, which we don’t have up here.”

This week, though, Code Blue Saratoga was able to begin opening its doors at 32 degrees, thanks in part to a new fundraising effort. The shelter is attempting to raise $32,000 to hire additional staff. The campaign was kicked off by an $8,000 grant by United Way of the Greater Capital Region.

Last December, Shelters of Saratoga also launched its adult day-time drop-in center, partially funded by a $5,000 grant from Bank of America. On Tuesdays, those in need can stop by to do their laundry, take a shower, and connect with support services. A youth drop-in center operates on Thursdays.

Code Blue Saratoga was founded after a city homeless woman froze to death. Finocchi says he hopes to never see that happen again.

“That’s somebody’s mother, that’s somebody’s brother, somebody’s sister, somebody’s father that’s out there. And, bottom line is they’re humans. Human beings. Just because they have some issues, doesn’t mean they’re outcasts.”

For more information visit: http://sheltersofsaratoga.org/

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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