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The Daily Gazette: Gloversville will pay $25k to establish homeless shelter

GLOVERSVILLE — The Common Council voted 7-0 Tuesday night to contribute $25,000 toward the establishment of a Code Blue temporary homeless shelter to operate between Jan. 15 and April 30 at 144 E. Fulton St.

Tuesday’s council vote came after months of wrangling over the issue of where a homeless shelter should be established in Gloversville.

“We’ve been working very hard on finding an alternative location that would be acceptable for the Code Blue shelter, other than the 33 Bleecker St. site,” Mayor Vince DeSantis told the council. “This is enabled by virtue of the change in the zoning law that we effectuated Jan. 1, which allowed Code Blue shelters in the commercial zone.”

Code Blue temporary shelters operate under a 2016 executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo mandating that county’s allow temporary shelters to operate for the homeless on nights during which the temperature drops below 32 degrees. Although the executive order was aimed at superseding any local laws against homeless shelters, Fulton County has never had a permanent Code Blue shelter established within its borders.

First Ward Councilwoman Marcia Weiss sponsored the resolution. After the meeting she said she wants the public to understand why the city is sponsoring the Code Blue homeless shelter.

“This is one-time-only,” Weiss said of the $25,00 payment. “What we’re trying to do is help get it set up. Once it’s set up and running, it’s up to them to figure out how to get the funding to continue this. What I wanted to do was make sure something got up and running for this year, and that’s why we funded it the way we did. We aren’t heartless people. We obviously know there are homeless people, and they need shelter in the cold weather.”

According to the council resolution, the $25,000 will go toward the Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless, an entity based in Albany which operates other shelters in the area, including Daniel’s House in Amsterdam. The local group working with the Interfaith Partnership is called the Center for Hope.

The Center Hope operated a temporary Code Blue homeless shelter established using a temporary certificate of occupancy at the former YWCA at 33 Bleecker St. from February to April of 2020.

The Center for Hope was denied a permanent certificate of occupancy in December when city Building Inspector David Fox ruled homeless shelters were prohibited in the city’s commercial zones. The city’s Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals have agreed with Fox’s interpretation of the city code and his position was bolstered by Matt Capano, owner of the Gloversville True Value Hardware store next door to the former YWCA, and “New York Lunch”, a restaurant on Bleecker Street. Capano has argued the Code Blue shelter caused problems for his business.

On Jan. 1 the council received an earful of written comments and letters from members of the public angry about the city’s unwillingness to support a Code Blue temporary shelter at the former YWCA. The county then voted 5-2 to change the city’s zoning ordinance to allow for Code Blue shelters in all of the city’s commercial zones, but specifically prohibit them in the area known as the “Downtown Form-based overlay”, which is where the former YWCA at 33 Bleecker St. is located.

Councilman-at-large William Rowback Jr. and 4th Ward Councilwoman Ellen Anadio voted against the ordinance change.

Rowback said he voted against the zoning change because he thinks it should have been possible to establish a Code Blue shelter within the city’s existing code, if the city had worked with the Center for Hope and businesses in the city’s downtown to come to a consensus on where to locate it. He said he voted for the $25,000 payment to establish the shelter at 144 E. Fulton St. because DeSantis favored that plan, although he is wary of the precedent it may set.

“We have to get into the practice of doing things right, instead of jumping all in, and then finding out ‘it can’t happen this way’, ‘it can’t happen that way’, and then we’ve got money going out to different organizations to settle a solution, even though it’s only a short term solution,” he said.

Jerry Ryan, a member of the Center for Hope’s board of directors, said the Interfaith Partnership staffed the center’s shelter at the YWCA from February to April of 2020, and the operation cost about $45,000 for that three month period.

The city’s $25,000 will help pay a monthly lease to Michael Chase, the owner of 144 E. Fulton St., Ryan said. The lease deal is not yet final, he said, but the approximate cost may be about $2,000 per month. He said the house, using a temporary certificate of occupancy for a Code Blue shelter, will have the capacity for 10 homeless people to shelter there on code blue nights.

It was less expensive to operate the shelter at the former YWCA, which is owned by the Gloversville Free Methodist Church led by Rev. Rich Wilkinson, Ryan said.

Wilkinson operates a food pantry at the former YWCA, which he has named the Center of Hope, which is why the temporary shelter took on that name.

Ryan said the Center of Hope board of directors is still considering all of its legal options for attempting to establish a permanent Code Blue shelter at the former YWCA, which has the capacity to house up to 40 people per night, in addition to no rent charge.

“This $25,000 from the city will help pay the prorated rent costs as well as utility costs and some staffing costs at 144 E. Fulton St.,” he said. “I think this was a generous offer by the mayor. The check will be going to the IPH (Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless).”

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