Homeless in Saratoga: How You Can Help
While the recent death of Nancy Pitts has cast a momentary spotlight on the issue of homelessness in Saratoga Springs, once that light goes away those who deal with the issue know the homeless will remain.
“Homelessness is no longer confined to big cities,” says Michael Stoops of the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington DC. News of Nancy’s death had already reached the coalition even before they were contacted by Saratoga Wire. “It should be a wake-up call by having someone who was homeless die in the middle of the winter, in such a caring community as Saratoga.”
Each year a national survey is conducted in an attempt to understand how many people in America are homeless, or at risk of becoming so. The numbers are not exact – it’s difficult to count a group of people, some of whom don’t want to be seen, which means these numbers are most certainly an under-representation – but according to the 2013 Point in Time survey, in October there were 38 people in Saratoga County categorized as ‘unsheltered.’ More than 200 others were living in emergency and transitional housing. This means people who may have been placed in a low-cost motel by social services, as well as those in a shelter. And perhaps surprising to some, more than 150 youth were classified as either ‘doubled-up’ or ‘couch-surfing’ – both often last stops before becoming homeless.
“For every homeless person you see on the street, there’s another nine you don’t see,” says Stoops. “They’re invisible.” By that measure, Saratoga County has almost 350 people who are homeless at any one time.
The good news is that there are resources available for those who are homeless, or at risk of becoming so. And for those who have been asking what they can do, all of the lead agencies have many opportunities for volunteering, as well as giving.
Here are profiles of five of the agencies most involved with the homeless in Saratoga Springs.
Shelters of Saratoga
Shelters of Saratoga (SOS) would probably be considered the lead agency in Saratoga Springs for helping those who are homeless. They offer lodging for adults from three counties – Washington, Warren and Saratoga. SOS has 33 beds available in two separate buildings, with six of the beds for women. They do not provide housing for families.
SOS will not provide services to everyone who comes through their doors. They focus primarily on those who might be moved into a productive role in society. “Folks who come here are ones that have a willingness to take the next step,” says Cindy Harrington, the director of marketing and development for SOS. “We’re trying to help them not be homeless anymore. It’s not three hots and a cot here; we’re looking for people to progress.”
Residents are asked for a self-pay of $10 a night.
Officials working in this field often refer to three types of homeless. One group is made up of the so-called situationally homeless – those who are homeless because their situation has changed – they lost their job, or had their home foreclosed. Another category includes those who have abused drugs or alcohol, while the third are those with mental illnesses.
Harrington says SOS residents are a mix of all three categories. “We’re generally at 95% capacity, so there’s definitely a need.”
SOS has case managers who work with each person who stays there. They help them to set short and long-term goals, help them with job applications, and work with them to navigate the requirements of social service agencies.
SOS also has a mobile outreach program. They make weekly visits to budget hotels where people are often on the last rung before homelessness. They provide them with personal care items, pop-top can goods when available and referral information. The program also reaches people who are living on the streets, offering them the same sorts of services.
Shelters of Saratoga has a number of opportunities for volunteers, says Harrington. “We do need volunteers in the evenings from Monday through Friday to man the front desk and answer the phones. And there are a lot of other opportunities to help. If someone has an interest, we try to find a place to plug them in based on their skills and their availability.”
They also have a holiday wish list available on their website for special giving.
CAPTAIN Youth and Family Services
Main office: 5 Municipal Plaza, Suite 3 Clifton Park, NY 12065
Hours: Monday – Thursday 8am-4:30pm; Friday 8am – 1pm
CAPTAIN operates a shelter for teens aged 13-17. Suzanne Carpenter-Franck, the shelter administrator, says they can house up to eight people at a time in their coed facility. Guests are taken in from a 50 mile radius around the facility. “They come from all over the place, to be honest,” says Carpenter-Franck. “Montgomery County, Saratoga; we work with Warren, Washington, Albany and Fulton counties as well. And we’re able to provide transportation to school so they can stay in their school of origin.”
Carpenter-Franck says they offer a range of services. “We provide the essentials – food, shelter and clothing. We have case mangers that work closely with the kids on establishing goals. We work closely with the schools to provide tutoring. We work with their parents and legal guardians. We try to keep it as close to their home life as possible.”
The kids end up there for many reasons. “Sometimes parents or legal guardians can get involved with the law… drinking, drugs, or getting sent off to prison. So the kids may have been living with other family members or couch surfing,” before they find their way to the shelter.
“Our goal is to reunite and provide a resource for families. We’re not here to take kids away from their families or legal guardians.”
In addition to the shelter, CAPTAIN provides outreach services, and sends speakers to area schools.
If interested in volunteering, please contact CAPTAIN to ask about availability.
The Salvation Army
27 Woodlawn Avenue
Two organizations in Saratoga Springs offer regular feeding programs. The Salvation Army on Woodlawn Avenue (full disclosure: this reporter has served for many years as a Board Member for The Salvation Army, and his daughter volunteers with its after school program) offers a breakfast program from 8:30a – 9:45a, Monday through Friday. “We serve from 30 to 60 meals a day,” says Captain Amber Boone. “Some of the people who come for meals are homeless, while others are on the edge.”
“It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do,” she adds. “We don’t discriminate against anyone. If you’re in need, we’ll help you.”
The Salvation Army provides other services beyond breakfast. “If they need to make phone calls they’re allowed. If they need clothing for a job, we do have a small clothing room. We have access to computers for both e-mail and resumes. And we have showers available, which helps them for their job, or just with general cleanliness.” There is also a food pantry.
The organization also offers an after-school program for at-risk youth. As many as 40 kids attend, where they receive help with homework, time on computers, and most importantly a place to feel safe. And the after school program is also touched by homelessness. “We help one or two kids who are homeless, or live out of hotels.”
Amber and her husband Aaron have been in Saratoga now for three years, and she says Nancy Pitts is the second homeless person to have died during that time. “It is good to have this heightened awareness of homelessness, but there are those who just won’t come inside, and what do you do for those people? That’s what frightens me.”
In addition to taking donations, as all of the groups discussed here do, The Salvation Army has a number of opportunities for volunteers. The organization could use more members for its advisory board. Their after school program allows volunteers to tutor on schoolwork and help with other aspects of the program. Volunteers can also help with the clothing room and food pantry.
Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council (EOC)
39 Bath Street
Contact: Anita Paley, Executive Director
EOC is a non-profit organization whose mission involves providing low-income people with training and opportunities that will help them become economically self-sufficient.
EOC partners with the Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church on 24 Circular Street to offer a soup kitchen for lunch. It is open to all people, not just those who are homeless.
Several calls made to EOC for additional information were not returned; however you can get more information on the luncheon program, and volunteer opportunities, by calling the church at 518-584-6091.
Franklin Community Center
10 Franklin Street
The Franklin Community Center describes itself as a human service agency, and has been providing basic necessities and services to the community for almost 30 years. While they offer many different services, they have some that are useful for those who are homeless.
We have an emergency food pantry here,” says Associate Director Jaime Williams, “so we do see people there. We provide food and clothing, and fulfill any need that we can for anyone who comes through the door.”
The center also operates Franklin Community Manor, a 17 unit facility that provides low income, affordable housing. “Some people use this as transitional housing, to get their feet under themselves and move out, while others live there as long as they can. With this facility we work closely with the shelters of Saratoga.”
Project Lift is an after-school program for kids in first through fifth grade. Children are provided with role models as well as tutoring.
The Community Center can help with clothing, particularly coats and gloves at this time of year. They also act as a ‘furniture broker’ – putting people in need of furniture in touch with those who have furniture to give away.
And we’re a clearing house for information,” says Williams. “We work really hard to help anyone who comes through our door. And if we can’t help them ourselves, we try to find the agency that can.”
Williams says donations are always welcome – from clothing to hygiene products – even office paper helps stretch their dollars. They also can use volunteers to help with events, the free store, and to help with mailings in the office.
While this list details the major organizations involved with the homeless in Saratoga Springs, it is by no means an exhaustive list of all the organizations that help in some way. If you would like to volunteer but don’t think any of these organizations would be the best fit for you, look around – you’ll be certain to find some place where you can make a difference.
ON THE WIRE