One day after Governor Cuomo issued an executive order requiring all local governments have winter shelters in place for the homeless, leaders in Saratoga Springs are working to make sure they can meet the demand. Time Warner Cable News' Matt Hunter reports.
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- Three winters after helping to open Saratoga's first Code Blue shelter, Mayor Joanne Yepsen hosted a meeting with local stakeholders on Monday to discuss Governor Andrew Cuomo's Sunday executive order, which will require all local governments to establish emergency homeless shelters when temperatures drop below 32 degrees.
"I wanted to make sure our legal team advised the local nonprofits, as well as some of the staff here in City Hall exactly what this law means," Yepsen said.
Set to take effect Tuesday, the document also tasks law enforcement agencies with forcefully bringing individuals inside who don't voluntarily seek shelter.
"To force an individual to come in, that is a little hard to do," said Michael Finocchi, executive director of the non-profit Shelters of Saratoga. Like Yepsen, Finocchi is supportive of the governor's broader intent, but he questions whether the order violates individual civil liberties.
"We will go out and encourage those individuals to come in. You can't force them to come in, though," said Finocchi, whose organization opened an adult drop-in center at one of its two Walworth Street shelters last month, which will be open one day during the week.
Speaking off camera, Saratoga Springs Police Chief Gregory Veitch said department leaders are reviewing the executive order but declined further comment until they determine how to best implement it in the city.
"Luckily, we have homeless who are pretty aware of the services we provide," Yepsen said. "Many of them come to Code Blue. I can think of only one or two that choose not to use the Code Blue facility."
Finocchi said a nightly average of 36 people relied on Code Blue last year. So far this winter, that number has been consistent during the four evenings it was open prior to Monday.
Funded entirely by donations, Yepsen says leaders still need to find enough money, staffing and volunteers to now keep the shelter open during the day. She believes a greater hurdle will be finding additional space.
"I think more shelters are going to have to open in order to satisfy this executive order. There's no doubt in my mind," said Yepsen, whose hopeful Saratoga County officials will provide support.
Desptie the challenges, the mayor says she's optimistic the city and its partners will meet the new demand.
"We are ready to roll," she said. "We will be able to iron these things out in the coming weeks, I hope."