By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Main Street Baptist Church has stepped up to provide a home shelter on “Code Blue” nights this winter, when temperatures are below freezing, or the wind chill makes it feel that way.
The only obstacle is $40,000-50,000 – a one-time sum needed to enable Catholic Charities to run the program. Once it gets going, the state will fund it.
So a fundraising effort was launched this week, according to Brad Feik, liaison between the Baptist church and Caring for the Homeless Collaborative, which Fox Hospital assembled two years ago on discovering its Emergency Room was the shelter available from wintry storms.
A letter went out Monday, Dec. 7, to the county’s “faith community,” signed by the Rev. Cynthia Walton-Leavitt, pastor of Oneonta’s “Red Door” Presbyterian Church, and Jennifer Schuman, of Fox’s Homeless Collaborative.
“Any donation of any amount is welcome to make this heartfelt dream of a Community Warming Station come true,” said the letter.
A member of Main Street Baptist provided 189 Main St., a former optical store, for the warming station, according to Feik, who with his wife Noel operate Otego’s Crossroads Inn, providing sober-living housing for people released from rehab and jail, and for the homeless.
Renovations began over the weekend, said Feik, and should be completed in the next few days. The hope is to open the warming station in mid-January, at the time it’s most needed.
He estimated there are 50-60 homeless people in Oneonta at any one time, and when “Code Blue” weather arrives, 3-7 people may sleep from 7:30 p.m. to 8 a.m. In some cases, people whose furnaces runs out of oil during cold snaps will use the facility as well.
The “warming station” concept emerged two years ago from Fox Hospital’s Ethics Committee, which was concerned about removing homeless people from the Emergency Room where they congregated on cold nights because they had nowhere else to go, according to Schuman.
She called Dr. Reggie Knight, who last month was named chief physician executive for Bassett Healthcare Network, the “administrative champion” of the concept. Feik also credited Jeff Joyner,
Fox Hospital president who was recently promoted to Network COO.
“We’ve been speaking with funding sources and asking local citizens for contributions,” said Schuman.
“Code Blue” was defined a few years ago by an executive order from Governor Cuomo. Currently, on cold nights people in need of shelter must go to the Opportunity for Otsego shelter and use the term “Code Blue” to receive a voucher a night’s lodging, Schuman said.
The warming station, she said, “would be a very low barrier” for people seeking shelter, some of who are “people who have difficulty with authority.”
According to Feik, the demand for the “warming station” might actually be less than usual this winter, since COVID-19 regulations have prevented banks from foreclosing and landlords from evicting tenants.
He emphasized that the $40,000-50,000 is a one-time amount. Once the program gets going, the state Office of Temporary Disability will pay for it, Feik said, but there’s a six-month lag, and Catholic Charities doesn’t have the reserves to run the operation in the meantime.