SARATOGA SPRINGS — A plan by Saratoga Springs city officials to establish a homeless shelter on Williams Street has been met with backlash from parents and community members at Saratoga Central Catholic School, who say the shelter could create safety concerns for the school’s students.
On Monday, Jan. 30, a large crowd attended a meeting held at the Holiday Inn in Saratoga Springs to discuss the shelter. The homeless shelter would move into 5 Williams St., a building that is currently occupied by the Saratoga Senior Center. The building borders Saratoga Catholic’s athletic fields.
The Senior Center will be relocating to the Saratoga Regional YMCA at 290 West Ave.
Kevin Zacharewicz, a member of the Saratoga Central Catholic Security Committee and parent of an SCC student, said that community members are not against the existence of the homeless shelter itself, but specifically its location near the school.
“I don’t want anybody thinking that we’re against the shelter,” said Zacharewicz. “We’re religious people, we are for helping, we’re for charity. We’re against the location. I have to get that out there, I have to make that straight. We do not like the location; we do not want this on our back doorstep.”
Other parents said they would question re-enrolling their children in the school if the shelter goes into place. Jan VanDeCarr, who has a daughter at SCC, said, “It’s not a good recipe” for the shelter to be located near the school.
The current shelter is located on Adelphi Street, with the lease expiring on April 30. It is anticipated the shelter will move into the space on Williams Street in the spring. The Saratoga Springs City Council unanimously passed a resolution approving the new location of the shelter on Oct. 18.
In a statement released Monday evening, Albany Diocese Superintendent of Schools Giovanni Virgiglio said Diocese officials met last week with officials from Saratoga Catholic, Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim, and Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino.
“Mayor Kim assured our group that no plans have been finalized, agreed to meet with our school community to listen to concerns, and committed to an ongoing dialogue to ensure that any considerations would not compromise school safety,” Virgiglio said in the statement. “The safety and well-being of our students and SCC community guides our decision-making and that is clearly our intention with this situation. At the same time, we cannot forget that care for the most vulnerable among us is a cornerstone of what we believe and teach as a Church.”
Some community members raised concerns about the possibility of the shelter receiving a ‘low-barrier’ designation, which could mean it may not require background checks, drug screenings, or other verifications.
“Pedophiles can go into a low-barrier shelter. There’s no background checks,” said Zacharewicz at the meeting.
It has not yet been confirmed whether the Williams Street shelter will receive a ‘low-barrier’ designation.
“All we have to do is bring awareness to this, because any reasonable person is going to agree with us that this is a very poor placement for a homeless shelter,” said Sara Nucera, a member of the SCC security committee, at the meeting.
Several parents also said there has been a lack of transparency and communication from city officials, with many parents on Monday claiming they were unaware of the plans for the shelter until recently. VanDeCarr said he wished the city had hosted a public hearing to allow residents to discuss the shelter.
“At this stage, there really should be some effort in that regard,” said VanDeCarr, who noted he was unaware of the plans for the shelter until roughly a week ago. “This is an adult problem. It should not be made a problem for kids at the school. The adults have to get together and figure out a solution.”
Duane Vaughn, executive director of Shelters of Saratoga, delivered a presentation to the city council on Oct. 18 in regards to the shelter, and the council engaged in a discussion before voting unanimously to pass the resolution to approve the shelter’s location.
Vaughn said at the Oct. 18 meeting that moving the shelter to the Williams Street location would allow more space for beds, and allow for other organizations such as RISE and the Salvation Army to possibly utilize the space as well. He said the Adelphi Street location has 60 beds.
A petition on change.org urging for ‘Safety for SCC Students’ has received over 1,300 signatures as of noon on Wednesday. The group is organizing a ‘Solidarity Walk’ to be held every Friday at 2 p.m. at the school.
Parents and community members were also encouraged to attend the next Saratoga Springs City Council meeting on Feb. 7 at 7 p.m.