Thursday, 09 December 2021 12:08

Does Compassion Have a Season?

By Duane J. Vaughn, Executive Director Shelters of Saratoga | News
Code Blue Shelter in Saratoga. Photo courtesy of Bonacio Construction Inc.  Code Blue Shelter in Saratoga. Photo courtesy of Bonacio Construction Inc.

It’s that time of year again when the focus shifts to the Code Blue Emergency Shelter for individuals experiencing street homelessness. Code Blue is a New York State mandate that says when the “Real Feel” temperature drops to 32 degrees, emergency, low barrier shelter for homeless individuals must be provided. In December of 2013, Nancy Pitts passed away in the freezing night which sparked a call to action to begin Code Blue operations in Saratoga Springs.

Frankly, the whole philosophy of Code Blue has often left me baffled. Why is it that we must hit a certain temperature before we take care of those who are most in need? Do we need the thermometer to tell us when we show compassion, kindness, and empathy? I have seen homeless individuals from ages 1 to well into their 80’s. I have seen veterans, persons with masters and Ph.D. degrees, daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, and even grandparents.

Maybe if we understood our homeless a bit more, that philosophy might change. Homelessness is not just a Saratoga problem; it has been an issue in our country and across the world for decades. There are many reasons why homelessness is such an issue. The contributing factors around homelessness are poverty, lack of affordable housing, addiction/substance use, and mental health challenges. In today’s society, we look at those who are suffering and instinctively assume that homelessness is of their own creation. Many people have been let down by our societal systems, and overcoming homelessness requires a support system many do not have. I can assure you that no person aspires to be homeless or at a Code Blue shelter.

Please, don’t get me wrong. I’ve been working at Shelters of Saratoga and in this wonderful community for 15 months. What I’ve seen since my arrival would make anyone proud. I’ve seen our businesses, city and county government officials want to be part of a solution. I’ve witnessed how much our community truly cares about some of today’s most controversial issues. Most notably are the dedicated staff and volunteers that give up their evenings and early mornings so that they can provide a hot meal, a warm cot, and more importantly, dignity and hope to our neighbors that have lost so much.

Last year we sheltered an average of 33 people a night at Code Blue, serving a total of 215 people for the season. Our volunteers served over 5,000 meals that were generously donated by local restaurants and community organizations. Code Blue is currently in full swing at our temporary Adelphi Street location and we are already on par to eclipse last year’s numbers.

There are multiple agencies working diligently to solve homelessness. Code Blue is a life-saving strategy, but not the answer to homelessness. We must work together on proven solutions to bring this human issue into the forefront of our minds and hearts. It’s time we discard the “thermometer philosophy” and take the next steps to expand  year-round services at the navigation center and designate a permanent location for Code Blue. With these resources we can forge better pathways out of the despair of homelessness. 

To learn more about Shelters of Saratoga’s work to end homelessness, please visit: sheltersofsaratoga.org 

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