BY CADY KUZMICH
CLIFTON PARK — Those without shelter in Clifton Park can now turn to a volunteer-run transportation cooperative to help them get to the Saratoga Springs Code Blue Shelter on increasingly frigid winter nights. Code Blue is an emergency shelter program that provides the community’s homeless with a warm meal and shelter in especially frigid conditions.
CAPTAIN Youth and Family Services, a shelter and support service for runaways and young people that has operated in Clifton Park for nearly 40 years, has organized with local volunteers to provide transportation and shelter to the area’s homeless on especially cold nights.
CAPTAIN has been on the Code Blue Steering Committee in Saratoga Springs since its inception in 2013 after 54-year-old Nancy Pitts froze to death in Saratoga Springs, sparking a newfound sense of urgency and charity in the city, which has a visible upper class but also a significant population of people with more limited means.
As a cold snap moved into the area this past week, The Saratoga Springs Salvation Army on Woodlawn Ave announced it will open its doors to the area’s homeless between 7 p.m. and 8:30 a.m. daily. The shelter, which has a capacity of nearly 40 people, is open between mid-November and mid-March whenever temperatures drop below 20 degrees or when a snowfall greater than 12 inches is predicted. The shelter is also open Thanksgiving night, Christmas Eve and Christmas day, regardless of weather conditions.
Andy Gilpin, associate executive director for CAPTAIN, said his agency was approached by a group of area volunteers who were considering starting their own Code Blue service in Clifton Park. “We decided it might be best to start a transportation cooperative first,” he said.
When a call comes in, a supervisor will arrange a public meeting place to pick up the person in need, then drive him to the shelter in Saratoga. The CAPTAIN service cooperative is staffed entirely by volunteers.
Gilpin looks at the transportation cooperative as a learning experience. While he said there are “definitely” homeless people living in Clifton Park and throughout Southern Saratoga County, he expects to find fewer instances of street homelessness than in Saratoga Springs. The lack of a town center contributes to the lack of street homelessness in Clifton Park, he explained. “A lot of the homeless people in Clifton Park are doubled up with friends or living in a car.”
“If there’s a high number of people using the transportation service, we’ll look to do something down here in this part of the county,” he said.
The number of homeless people in Saratoga Springs may surprise some, but anyone who walks regularly on Broadway has likely seen them.
“It’s always a shocker,” said Gilpin. “A lot of people’s first response is ‘No… really?’ when they first hear of the homeless problem in Saratoga Springs.”
“People need to be educated,” he added.
Local businesses such as the Olde Bryan Inn, Druther’s, Brook Tavern, Longfellow’s, PJ’s Bar-B-QSA and the Presbyterian NE Congregational Church all donated food for the 2014-2015 season.
The program estimates it had 16 guests each night in the first year, and 36 guests a night in its second year. The number of volunteers who work to keep Code Blue running rose sharply from 156 volunteers in the first season to 326 last winter.