The City of Gloversville is looking for overnight volunteers to help staff the Code Blue temporary shelter at the former VFW building at 24 3rd Ave., which was officially opened on Friday and helped feed and shelter three people Saturday night.
The city needs at least two volunteers, at least one of them being CPR certified, to staff the shelter from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. the next morning every night of the week when the night time temperature is expected to go below 32 degrees.
“Which we do expect for the foreseeable future,” City Clerk Jenni Mazur said Saturday of the temperature requirement for the shelter. “The doors will be open for people who need a place to stay from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., and after 9 p.m. the doors will be locked. After 9 p.m. people will need to go to the police department and the police will contact somebody at the shelter in order to bring the person over there. (People staying at the shelter) can leave at any time, but once you leave, you leave for the day.”
On Friday the city inked a month-long $2,200 agreement to lease half of the former VFW building, 2,200 square feet, from its current owner Real Estate Broker Joseph M. Lander for the purpose of operating the Code Blue shelter.
Mazur said the city on Friday also obtained its temporary certificate of occupancy to run the Code Blue shelter from City Building Inspector David Fox after the Gloversville Fire Department installed smoke and carbon monoxide detectors into the building.
This was a rapid turn-around from the Common Council’s 6-0 vote during a special meeting Thursday night to purchase the entire 4,928 square foot building for $170,000, using money from the city’s $1.5 million in federal aid from the U.S. American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). The council also authorized the short-term lease agreement to be in place until the closing of the real estate purchase in order for the shelter to open immediately.
On Saturday Clerk Jenni Mazur described the city’s efforts to open the Code Blue shelter. She said city officials didn’t know the former VFW hall was a viable option for the shelter until Wednesday afternoon when they toured the building.
“Our next step was to see if it was something we could do this year,” Mazur said. “We spent Wednesday evening and Thursday morning calling different organizations and county departments to see if they could lend a hand to help us get it opened right away.”
In the week prior the city had come under increasing public pressure and criticism for the lack of a Code Blue shelter in Gloversville when the night time temperatures were routinely going below zero.
Much of the criticism was coming from members of the Free Methodist Church of Gloversville, which has filed an Article-78 lawsuit against the city challenging the Gloversville Zoning Board of Appeals 2020 decision to deny the church’s “Center of Hope Code Blue Shelter” application for a permanent certificate of occupancy at the former YWCA at 33 Bleecker St. The ZBA had ruled that Code Blue shelters were not a permitted use in the city’s “form-based downtown overlay district”, and the Common Council in January 2021 changed the city’s zoning ordinance to expressly prohibit the shelters in the downtown district, while also, for the first time, allowing Code Blue shelters to open in most of the city’s commercial districts.
The website ”reason.com” published an article on Thursday quoting Free Methodist Church of Gloversville leader Rev. Rich Wilkinson criticizing the city’s policies of prohibiting his church’s use of 33 Bleecker St. and it’s ready-to-open dormitory facilities for a Code Blue shelter.
On Friday, however, the Center of Hope Code Blue advisory board issued a public statement praising the city’s efforts to rapidly open 24 3rd Ave. as the site for the shelter.
“We are grateful to the leadership of Gloversville for not only acknowledging the homeless population but putting together a temporary solution,” reads the Center of Hope statement. “We wish nothing but the best for the city in this endeavor and hope that through this shelter, many of those in need can find help. We also want to thank you, the community, for all your support of our efforts these past three years. Without your donations of items, money, and volunteering, we could never have made this change possible. We will continue to seek other ways we can help those in need in Gloversville as an advisory board.”
Mazur on Saturday explained that the city received donated time and supplies from Gloversville-based contractor 518 Renovations, which put up a “partition wall in one of the banquet rooms” at the former VFW hall, to enable gender segregated lodging for men and women.
“518 Renovations built that partition for us in a couple of hours, and Price Chopper is donating food to us three times a week, as well as Dunkin’ Donuts that came through for us with a huge donation,” Mazur said. “Fulton County Emergency Management unit donated the pillows, cots and blankets. We received a big donation from Austin’s Glassworks shop in Gloversville, on top of many, many donations from community members. We were inundated with donations. We have, practically, what we need to run this place this season, (donated) all within a matter of 8 hours.”
Community activist and Gloversville Enlarged School District employee Lashawn Hawkins, who operates a nonprofit called ‘I can Breath and I will Speak’, was one of the volunteers at the shelter Saturday night. She issued a social statement early Sunday morning explaining that she wanted to celebrate Dr. Martin Luthor King Day weekend by providing service to community members.
“The mere fact that people have a place (that’s) warm (to) sleep is a big flex for Gloversville and I’m here for it all, #CoDeBLUEWarm,” Hawkins wrote in a Facebook post.
Since the council’s action to approve the purchase 24 3rd Ave. some have criticized the price, pointing out that Lander paid $45,000 for the building in 2015 and it was assessed for only about $49,000 at the time the council authorized the purchase.
The purchase, however, appears to help fill the project goals for two items in Mayor Vince DeSantis’s plan for how to spend the ARPA money. In October DeSantis laid out the projects his administration wants to fund that also fit the federal government’s rules for how to spend the $1.5 million.
These two items were listed in DeSantis’ plan:
• $200.000 — to retrofit to code an existing building that has been identified in a central location appropriately zoned to be retrofitted to accommodate a large dormitory facility for homeless men and women.
“Once completed, it will provide safe, comfortable shelter for the population most at risk in the community,” reads the ARPA plan. “It will also enable the County Department of Social Services to provide emergency shelter much more effectively at greatly reduced cost to the county.”
• $150,000 — to establish the first phase of a multi-purpose youth and family recreational facility near the center of the city.
Mazur on Saturday said the former VFW building will be the city’s permanent solution for providing a Code Blue shelter in Gloversville during the Cold Blue weather season, which typically runs from December to early April, but the city will also use the building as a youth center for its Recreation Commission.
“This building will give us endless possibilities for recreation, and it will be the City of Gloversville Recreation Center,” she said. “The summer recreation program can be held there, and we’re talking about bringing back ‘teen towns’ throughout the Spring and Summer, but every winter, when those temperatures drop it will function … all season long as a Cold Blue shelter.”