Candidate For Mayor Mark Baker On Controversy Over Code Blue Shelter

In a previous blog, I reported on the proposal to build a shelter for Code Blue.  Link To Earlier Post.  The Zoning Board of Appeals recently approved the required variances for the project.  Subsequently, homeowners in the neighborhood decided to appeal the decision and turned out to a ZBA meeting.  The ZBA denied hearing their appeal citing that they would have had to make the appeal within 60 days of the determination by the building inspector.   The neighbors’ attorney unsuccessfully challenged this arguing that the determination by the board should have triggered the clock.

Mayoral Candidate Mark Baker issued a press release critical of the Mayor.  The Gazette quoted Mr. Baker as follows:

‘Baker went on to say that past approaches to the city’s homelessness problem and “lack of public input and thoughtfulness” from the mayor’s office has led to “real community problems of vagrancy, aggressive panhandling and encouraging the presence of homeless individuals downtown.”’

I thought accusing the mayor of “encouraging the presence of homeless individuals downtown” seemed rather harsh so I sent him an email asking him:

What actions has the mayor taken that has contributed to this?

What actions would you take to address this if you were mayor?

To Mark’s credit he both called me to discuss the issue and at my request sent me the original press release along with a response to my questions.  While I support the construction of the shelter I have sympathy for the concerns of the neighbors and I thought that Mark’s concerns were more thoughtful after reading his entire release.

Many of the neighbors complained that they had been unaware of the project until after the ZBA had approved it.  In seeking a variance or in submitting an appeal of a Zoning Board of Appeals decision the neighbors within one hundred feet are required to be notified.  Given the controversial nature of this project it would seem prudent to have reached out further.  A more systemic approach to this problem would be to widen the area to be notified by amending the city’s zoning ordinances.


The following are Mark’s response to my questions and his press release.


From: Mark Baker

Date: July 2, 2017 at 2:21:00 PM EDT

To: John Kaufmann

Subject: Homeless

The Mayor’s office should be the first to engage the community and any specific neighborhoods when a significant action or project is being discussed or proposed.  The Mayor’s role should always be to listen, inform, educate and build consensus.  With a project with such high visibility and interest as a permanent home for Code Blue, it would have been prudent and productive for the Mayor to bring together the entire impacted neighborhood, not just those within 100 ft.

Lacking transparency, public input, and engagement​ by the community leads to suspicion, misunderstanding and discord which all too often leads to expensive litigation.

The lack of leadership from the Mayor’s office may have contributed to continued concerns  of homelessness​, vagrancy and panhandling impacting neighborhood​s and downtown.

This complex human service issue and potential solutions must be understood by the public, impacted neighborhoods, and neighboring towns to be truly successful.

As Saratoga Springs Mayor, I will put all Saratogian’s first in seeking solid first step solutions by working in partnership with all involved agencies, the faith community, and residents.

Mark E Baker


For Immediate Release

June 26, 2017

Contact: Nick Wilock, 518-878-6568

BAKER: HOMELESS SHELTER SOLUTION MUST BE RESPECTFUL & REALISTIC

Statement from Mark Baker, candidate for Saratoga Springs Mayor, ahead of Zoning Board meeting to discuss proposal to build 61 bed homeless shelter in residential section of city

“I trust and expect the Saratoga Springs Zoning Broad will be realistic and objective when they evaluate the merits and challenges of approving a “Code Blue” facility in the heart of one of Saratoga Springs’ historic and most densely populated residential areas. “As a community we have a moral obligation and responsibility to show compassion and to be responsive to those already in our city who are in need and homeless, especially children.  I am personally committed to finding a solution to this issue that is sensitive to those in need but is also responsible to our neighborhoods, schools and residents.

“The first step in finding a resolution and mutually acceptable solution is for city leaders, particularly the mayor, to listen and gather public input and guidance. “The current proposal before the Zoning Board is not sufficient in how it will serve the homeless and it does not adequately respect our neighborhoods and current residents. A better solution needs to be investigated. “It may in fact create an even greater need, by attracting additional folks in need to the community versus Saratoga Springs embracing those who are in the city already needing a helping hand. “The past approach to these pressing questions and lack of public input, planning and thoughtfulness from the mayor’s office has led to real community problems of vagrancy, aggressive panhandling and encouraging the presence of homeless individuals’ downtown. In a tourist destination city, with a vibrant downtown residential community, these are problems for tourism, downtown business and public safety management of our community. “The goal is to be responsive and compassionate to those who are homeless. The solution needs to be respectful and realistic. The current Zoning Board proposal is not the ‘best practice’ approach to addressing the question of how to help people to find shelter.”

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10 thoughts on “Candidate For Mayor Mark Baker On Controversy Over Code Blue Shelter”

  1. I just love, love, love how the neighborhood whines about not being informed.
    When the Mitzen’s gift was announced, with the provision that Code Blue was to be built on SOS property, what newspaper, TV station and local blog (including this one) didn’t cover this? In many cases, it was given prime front page play – not buried in legal classifieds.
    While I certainly recognize there is an obligation to inform, doing so wouldn’t change one of these ‘refusenik’s’ minds… “Oh, thanks for telling me – go right ahead”… Get real.
    These Luddites have pulled this ‘uninformed’ nonsense before. It’s part of their whining arsenal. As is litigation – their next stop.
    Again, I am amazed that people buy housing in an urban area, act shocked when the area has urban problems, and then attempt to stifle every good-faith effort to make progress.
    The fact is: the best place to put a code blue facility in the entire city is on SOS’s property. For a variety of reasons. Anyone want to debate me? Bring it NIMBY’s!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m ready but first, will you advocate to put it in your neighborhood?..Just to be fair Arthur not too many people I know want to live next door to a 61 room flophouse filled with alcoholics, drug addicts, the mentally ill and criminals!

      Like

    2. Arthur, I agree with you on this one. When one purchases a home they need to look at the neighborhood and the culture that exists. The neighborhood where this shelter is being considered has SOS where there has been exceptional success and no problems as a result – that I have heard of. Code Blue has been located in several places over the past few years and I don’t know of any major problems. These are people first – just people who happen to have less than those who are complaining.

      It is similar to those who purchased homes near the hospital – in a growing city – and they didn’t think the hospital would need to grow? And, one who even complained about the helicopters that fly overhead. Be grateful that helicopter is not trasporting someone you love.

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  2. Arthur says:
    “The fact is: the best place to put a code blue facility in the entire city is on SOS’s property. For a variety of reasons. Anyone want to debate me? Bring it NIMBY’s!”

    Arthur: In the entire city? C’mon Man. What are the “variety of reasons”???

    There are still some nice lots available on the east side of our city. Why do all of these proposals have to occur on the West side of town? Please, somebody explain why Stonequist, Watkins, SOS are all on the West side of town?

    I am not a NIMBY. And I reside on the East Side.

    Like

    1. I don’t know what “reasons” Arthur is thinking of yet I can give you a few. Having SOS next door and managing Code Blue will allow for closer oversight without further stretching the budget for a not-for-profit that does good things for those citizens in our city that are in need. Having it next door to SOS may increase the number of Code Blue guests that ultimately take advantage of the services of SOS and become contributing citizens.

      I’m offended by the term “flop-house”. This is a safe house where guests are not just given a safe place (though that is the main goal). It also gives them access to the caring and respect that is needed for anyone to accept help and get better. As a human service work and a college instructor in the human service field I know that the first element for anyone to get well is safety (From several different theorists). Will each one accept help and improve their life situation? No, but each one deserves the opportunity and in my experience we just never know which one will be the one to do this.

      Lastly, if you get to know a few of those who avail themselves of Code Blue you will find most of them to be kind and decent people as opposed to someone wanting to take advantage of others.

      Please learn some more before you draw your conclusions. Try to avoid what I’ve come to call “Passionate Myopothy” where you jump to a conclusion then close your mind to facts.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. OK, I said ‘bring it!’ and bring it you did… let me try to elaborate on Merlin and Henry’s questions and comments.

    Merlin: {… first, will you advocate to put it in your neighborhood?}
    Henry: {…In the entire city? C’mon Man. What are the “variety of reasons?}

    I sort of am advocating that – while I don’t live on Walworth, I am close by. The plain fact is that there are homeless everywhere in our City: Downtown, West Avenue, neighborhoods, even portions of Wilton. This is evidently a nationwide problem, and we are trying to cope with it locally as best we can.

    The key is that SOS is on Walworth, and the reason why I am saying that, therefore, it is the best place for Code Blue is that, if housed on the SOS ‘campus,’ if you will, the homeless population can be monitored by professionals who are in a position to give them services that one day might break their cycle of pain… The homeless can be exposed, in a limited, controlled way, to living, breathing examples of people (SOS residents) who are doing just that.

    If SOS were on, say, Nelson Avenue, I would say that it is the best location for the same reasons.

    Let’s be clear: I am sure that the SOS people thought long and hard about mixing the two populations – one sober, the other not – and are taking the necessary steps to assure that security is in place.

    Another important point is about the NIMBY scare tactic of “the homeless being dumped on the street” every day. In fact, SOS residents are required to leave each day, clean shaven and spit polished, to look for work. The Code Blue residents are not.

    When Code Blue was a nomad – borrowing overnight access from Spa Catholic, Salvation Army, and Soul Saving Station – they were required to vacate each day so that the hosts could do their primary work (school, church, etc.) This no longer need be the case. In the daytime, the Code Blue building can serve as a place where the homeless can learn about services, etc. – becoming more like a ‘mission’ than just a place to escape the cold. SOS has the right people, in place, to deliver such services. When it is 32 degrees or below in the daytime, they have to stay open anyway, to fulfill the Governor’s mandate.

    Oh, and let’s drown the notion that this facility will be so attractive that it will draw people from far and wide. Nobody is going to show up at this place and mistake it for the Adelphi Hotel. Volunteer to spend a night there, and tell me that an army cot in a dormitory setting is your idea of a dream vacation. This isn’t about luxury… this is about survival. See for yourself when it opens – they are still going to need plenty of volunteers.

    I think that SOS doesn’t get anywhere near the credit it deserves for taking the whole Code Blue thing on. Remember, the Governor mandated that Counties make provisions for Code Blue shelters, not not-for-profit foundations. SOS could have sat on their hands when Nancy Pitts died on the street. Then where would we be? But they did the right thing because they could, and mobilized the community. Kudos.

    Considering everything, I stick to my contention that this is the best place for this facility, and it deserves our support.

    As far as Henry’s question about locating all these things on the West Side, I’d have to guess. Perhaps someone else could speak to this.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Well done Arthur.
    Just one comment. You mentioned that one (group) was sober, and the other not.
    I do not agree with that supposition. Thank you, though, for your thoughtful presentation.

    Liked by 1 person

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