Code Red on Code Blue: The Battle to Create a Permanent Homeless Shelter in Saratoga
With a poverty rate of 6.8%, Saratoga County hosts a considerable population of homeless people who may not have a warm place to turn to this winter. To address the issue, a donation was made to Shelters of Saratoga (SOS) to pay for a permanent Code Blue shelter in 2017. However, the proposed shelter was deemed unfit with zoning laws, and can not be built in the proposed location.
Shelters of Saratoga has set up a temporary Code Blue location where people can go if the temperature for the night drops below 32°F, or if there is a foot or more of snow predicted. The shelters offer a warm meal, basic supplies and a bed to sleep in for the night. The organization also aids people in finding permanent housing, transitioning into treatment, or reconnecting with family.
Despite the overflow location that SOS has also set up at the Presbyterian New England Church, the temporary shelters do not have enough space. As a response to the scarcity of resources, Ed Mitzen — the founder of Fingerpaint Marketing on Broadway — and his wife, Lisa, offered to pay for a permanent Code Blue shelter in 2017. SOS planned to have the shelter built next to their substance housing on Walworth Street in Saratoga. While these plans were initially approved by the zoning board, a group of neighbors then banded together and filed a lawsuit to stop the project.
The group of neighbors reasoned that the area did not have the capacity to support a permanent Code Blue shelter, and that the proposal actually did not fit into the zoning regulations for the area. Robert Pringle, a man against the Code Blue shelter location, said that he doesn’t “think that [homeless people] belong in these areas," citing possible criminality among the homeless population.
On Sept. 17, 2018, Saratoga County Supreme Court Judge Robert J. Chauvin ruled in favor of the neighbors. He stated that the proposed shelter did not fit with the zoning laws for the specific location. This decision and lawsuit came as a blow to SOS, as covering legal expenses was costly, and channeled money away from helping the homeless.
SOS has other places in mind for the Code Blue shelter, but none of them will be as convenient or as easy to get built as the proposed Walworth Street shelter, and none would be ready in time for the impending cold weather. This leaves SOS, and its volunteers, searching for a way to avoid any more tragic deaths.