Imagine being cold, out in the elements, and without access to shelter. Prior to the Code Blue winter shelter opening in 2013, this was a reality for hundreds of people in our region through the winter months. Plus, a third of Saratoga County households struggle to make ends meet – leaving them just one small step removed from experiencing this reality.
The Dangers of Cold Weather
Hypothermia poses a significant risk to those experiencing homelessness. Caused by prolonged exposure to very cold temperatures, hypothermia lowers the body temperature and eventually affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. Severe hypothermia can also cause an irregular heartbeat, leading to heart failure and death. 1 Hypothermia is an especially dangerous situation, because the affected person may not know that it’s happening.
Warning signs for hypothermia include shivering, exhaustion or feeling tired, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, or drowsiness. 2
Lengthy exposure to cold temperatures could also lead to frostbite. Although not life-threatening, frostbite usually affects extremities such as the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes. It can lead to a loss of feeling and permanently damage the body. Severe cases can lead to amputation. Frostbite warning signs include discolored skin or the skin feeling waxy or numb. 3
Providing Shelter from the Cold
Shelters of Saratoga (SOS) has been providing homeless services in Saratoga County since 1997. In 2013, the community quickly and compassionately banded together to support the opening of a Code Blue winter shelter when Nancy Pitts froze to death while sleeping on the loading dock behind the Saratoga Senior Center one winter night.
In the simplest terms, when the temperature drops below freezing, Code Blue opens to provide safe overnight shelter to anyone experiencing homelessness. Today, SOS operates the 61-bed shelter program with support from the Saratoga County Department of Social Services, the New York State Office of Temporary Disability and Assistance, and private contributors.
For the 2022-23 Code Blue season, the shelter is located at 4 Adelphi Street in Saratoga Springs. In addition to nighttime shelter, case management services are offered, which provides the means for guests to move out of homelessness into treatment, emergency shelter, and housing.
The goal of SOS is to secure a permanent facility for year-round low-barrier shelter with daytime services at the Navigation Center. Significant progress has been made towards this goal at the Saratoga Senior Center building on Williams Street, after they relocate to their new location at the West Avenue Branch of the Saratoga Regional YMCA. SOS plans to begin necessary renovations to the building in 2023.
1 Johns Hopkins Medicine; https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/hypothermia
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/staysafe/hypothermia.html
3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/staysafe/hypothermia.html