When it’s 20 below zero, it’s time to act.
We know there are homeless people in the Glens Falls region who have nowhere to go at night, because they were staying in a temporary cold-weather shelter set up a couple of years ago in a county building in Queensbury.
On cold nights, more than 15 people could be found there.
This winter, a new shelter, run by the Open Door Mission, was supposed to open on Warren Street, but the project has been beset by delays and is now not scheduled to open until the end of January, if then.
It may be that the shelter doesn’t open at all this winter, or by the time it opens, the worst of the winter has passed.
Meanwhile, the temperature is supposed to descend to 20 below this weekend. Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve endured one of the coldest stretches in recent memory, with the temperature sinking each night to zero or below.
A quick trip to the store after dinner is now an unpleasant task. In the morning, cars get started — if they start — 15 minutes before it’s time to leave the house.
But imagine what it would be like to face the night without a place to sleep. Imagine if you had to walk around in that cold for hours.
The inadequate solution has been for the Open Door to keep its soup kitchen on Lawrence Street open. People without a place to go can stay there all night, but the soup kitchen has no beds. They won’t die, sitting in a hard chair at a hard table all night, but that’s the best you can say about this arrangement.
Someone may die, however, for lack of a real shelter, tonight or the next night. It happened several years ago in Saratoga Springs, and that death was the catalyst for a successful community-wide effort to create and operate a shelter.
Here in Glens Falls, the community has not come together in the same way, because the Open Door has insisted on keeping tight control of its project and on making the shelter a part of its evangelical Christian mission.
The Open Door employs only those devoted to that mission and insists on proselytizing the people the shelter helps.
The whole community has an interest in feeding the hungry and housing the homeless, but the Open Door’s leaders have narrowed their volunteer and donor base by insisting that the operation have an evangelical focus.
None of that history addresses the immediate issue, however, which is the danger of having someone freeze to death. We understand that homeless shelters must meet safety codes, which include the presence of sprinkler systems. But this is an emergency, and just as temporary shelters, with beds, can be set up in school gyms or churches or other buildings during natural disasters, a temporary shelter should be set up now in the city of Glens Falls.
We believe city officials, starting with our new mayor, Dan Hall, can find a way to make this happen. We believe a site can be found, and cots located, and any legal hurdles overcome, and volunteers located to staff the site, so that no one dies in the cold.
We believe that can happen today.
What happens when it warms up a bit? How long can such an emergency shelter be kept open?
Those questions and others will be answered in time, when they have to be. But right now, we need to find a warm place where these people can sleep.