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Code Blue season begins again in Capital Region

Code Blue News Conference 2021
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
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Liz Hitt addresses those gathered at Code Blue press conference at Christ Church in Albany NY, November 2021

With winter's chill not far off, the Code Blue program has launched for another season in the city of Albany.

Code Blue Albany has been active every winter since 2010, offering transportation and shelter during periods of extreme winter weather. In January 2016, then-Governor Andrew Cuomo said that if it's 32 degrees or less, including the wind chill, municipalities have to make sure that people without homes have somewhere to go.

Liz Hitt, Executive Director of the Homeless and Traveler's Aid Society of the Capital District, says the pandemic has left its mark on the protocol.

"They've had to oftentimes reduce the number of people they can serve. Because you have to have more space now in between people, which is a good thing. So that's impacted how many people you can serve," said Hitt. "So for example, the Safe Haven, which is a seasonal shelter run by IPH, when they first opened their doors five years ago, six years ago, they were serving 55-60 people a night. Now they've been capped and they're down in the low 30s. That's the impact of COVID. So I think we would, that we all thought we'd be through this by now. But we're not."

Albany City Treasurer Darius Shahinfar says the network of organizations that support Code Blue locally, including Capital City Rescue Mission, the Albany Public Library and the Albany Outreach Van, are eligible for aid.

"I don't need to tell anybody else in this room that COVID was a shock to all of our systems for the past 18 months or so. But we've banded together, we work together to keep on doing what we do," Shahinfar said. "It's unfortunate that we still have a lot more work to do. But the good news and I think everybody here should bear in mind, is that we now have money available to help put towards these problems. And I encourage everybody up here to think about that and to think about your own infrastructure and what you need and what you could use money for. Because we're going through a process right now to enable applications for funds to be used for things that we need in our community."

Bruce France is the executive director for the Capital Areas Council of Churches, which operates the emergency overflow homeless shelter November 1st through April 30th from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m., and they have a shelter in the basement of Christ Church on Western Avenue.

Shelter in the basement of Christ Church on Western Avenue.
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Shelter in the basement of Christ Church on Western Avenue in Albany.

"So we use the space that's the old gymnasium where our guests sleep each night. And then we have other, obviously shower and bathroom and facilities," said France. "We typically do a dinner every night that's provided by a lot of our congregations that belong to that Capital Area Council of Churches. We also get help from the Regional Food Bank."

Hitt says around 700 unhoused people live in Albany during the winter months, and shelters can always use volunteers.

"If you care about the homeless, contact your local shelter," Hitt said. "If you're in Schenectady, reach out to the City Mission. If you're in Troy, you've got Unity House, you've got Joseph's House, you've got the shelters of Saratoga and Saratoga Springs. Here in Albany, you've got IPH Catholic Charities, they run two shelters, Capital City Rescue Mission, they all need something. They all would appreciate your support. Email them, call them.”

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