Community leaders in Saratoga Springs are seeking to establish a Code Blue program, just days after a woman succumbed to the elements outside the Saratoga Senior Center on a freezing night.
During the recent cold snap, 54-year-old Nancy Pitts died outside the Saratoga Senior Center. Now officials are working to prevent similar deaths in the future.
Mayor-elect Joanne Yepsen is leading the charge to establish a Code Blue program in Saratoga Springs. During a Code Blue alert, emergency shelters open their doors to anyone when the temperature dips below 10 degrees.
Yepsen said she recently met with leaders of surrounding communities to discuss their Code Blue operations.
"I met with mayors from all the different around the Capital Region yesterday morning for breakfast, and it's clear that every city except Saratoga Springs has a Code Blue program in place," said Yepsen. "So it's time, and there's no time like the present to get this going. We do not need any more unsheltered homeless people sleeping outside during extreme weather conditions and risking their life."
Yepsen called for an emergency meeting Friday with public safety personnel in Saratoga Springs, as well as staff from the Saratoga County district attorney’s office and members of the non-profit and interfaith communities.
At the meeting, the group will discuss Albany’s Code Blue program with staff from the Homeless and Travelers Aid Society.
Pastor Perry Jones, Executive Director of Capital City Rescue Mission, said on Code Blue nights, the mission encourages people in need of shelter to come in and stay warm. Jones said certain members of the homeless population often have reservations about approaching a shelter, or are victims of drug and alcohol abuse, or suffer mental illness.
"Whatever they might make decisions to try to stay outside, they are decisions that we need to say to them 'you know, there's an alternative'," said Jones. "We understand that this one night or this two nights as Code Blue is not going to solve all your issues, but it is going to keep you alive and healthy while you stay alive to work on those issues with us and others."
On Code Blue evenings, those in need do not need to comply with the standard protocol, which can include showing identification or eating at scheduled times.
Paul McAvoy of the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany said on Code Blue evenings, his organization has a system in place to allow individuals in need of shelter to take refuge in common areas of single-resident occupancy apartment buildings owned by Catholic Charities in case the emergency shelters are full.
McAvoy stressed a network with private and public partners is important in establishing a Code Blue program.
"One thing I think that is really important when looking at these types of programs is making sure there's a coalition in place, there's numerous partners, and that there's an infrastructure there that can help support it," said McAvoy.
Yepsen said she believes Saratoga Springs can have its own Code Blue system up and running in the near future.
"We clearly need to talk about several elements. One is location of emergency overnight accommodations, and we need a warm place with a warm meal and no questions asked," said Yepsen. "And clearly there will be some finances involved and transportation needs so I'm expecting all of this will hopefully come together today or at least in the next week or so, so we can get this open and ready to go.