SARATOGA SPRINGS – This year, Shelters of Saratoga (SOS) is celebrating 25 years of helping the homeless take back their lives and get back on their feet. On Thursday, April 7, the anniversary will be officially commemorated at SOS’s Brighter Days Gala at Longfellows, where the “Help, Hope, Humanity” award will be presented to members of the community that have contributed to SOS’s success and progress over the years.
One of the awardees is former mayor Ken Klotz, who has been involved with SOS since almost the very beginning. Klotz has a unique prospective on the 25 year anniversary of SOS – his involvement in the growth of the organization for over two decades makes him the ideal witness to SOS’s development and achievements.
“What has been really remarkable for me is to see how the services of the shelter have expanded to meet the needs of the community,” said Klotz, who started working with SOS as a member of their board in the early 90’s. “It was small scale in the beginning. Now, if you go to the gala, it fills Longfellows. The community acceptance and support of it is just really striking to me when I look back over the years.”
SOS began at St. Clements Church in January 1992 with just six beds after members of the community and the church decided they had the power to help those who live on the streets. Later that year, SOS moved to a trailer home on East Beekman Street, which had eight available beds.
“I volunteered for overnights there at that point,” said Klotz in regards to the location on East Beekman. “It was an interesting experience. It was a small space, and when it was filled it was claustrophobic.”
Klotz continued helping SOS as a volunteer and in 1995 was able to help even more after getting elected to the city council. In 1997, when SOS did not finish constructing their building at 14 Walworth Street on time, the grant they were supposed to receive from the state was in danger of being pulled. Since it was being built on a city lot, Klotz stepped in, and through the city council and fellow colleagues, was able to steer the grant through. “I was in a position to do something about it,” he said.
Furthermore, Klotz used his position as mayor from 2000 to 2003 as a platform for raising awareness to homelessness. “You have an audience because people are always asking your opinion when you represent the city, so you can bring attention to issues you think are important,” he said. “I want people to know that street life is not attractive. These are not people that want to live miserable lives.”
After serving his two terms as mayor, Klotz was approached by SOS once again in 2006 to be a part of an advisory committee that was focusing on development and fundraising. He has now been on the committee for eight years.
In the last 25 years, SOS has grown and expanded its services exponentially. Starting at just six beds at St. Clements, SOS’s shelters can now house up to 35 men and women at once. SOS has expanded its outreach to local motels and the streets, as well as providing adult and youth drop-in centers for hot meals and showers. Code Blue, which began in 2013, offers shelter for homeless individuals during harsh weather conditions. SOS uses the term “continuum of care” as part of their mission – in other words, not only providing short-term help, but also long-term support for finding housing, jobs and education.
“I think Saratoga Springs, for a small city, has handled this difficult problem as well as you could imagine a city responding,” said Klotz. “We have really good leadership, members of the community that step up, and an enormous number of volunteers. These are the people that are really putting in the work and hours because they don’t think this should be a place where people die on the streets. To me, that says volumes about our community and what a wonderful community it is to live in.”
When asked how he felt about getting the “Help, Hope, Humanity” award, Klotz responded: “I really was floored by it because there are probably 300 people more deserving than I am. I just know how dependent the shelter is on the committed volunteer efforts so many people in the community give to it. I’m just a volunteer like anybody else.”
Klotz will be honored at the Brighter Days Gala on April 7, along with Mark Bertrand, founder of The Giving Circle, and Vincent, Patty, Ronald and Michele Riggi for their philanthropy toward SOS. Tickets to the gala are $100 and proceeds will benefit the over 1,000 men and women SOS helps each year. For more information about Shelters of Saratoga, and to make reservations for the Brighter Days Gala, visit sheltersofsaratoga.org.