The Open Door Mission has taken on the big challenge of funding and running a cold weather shelter (Code Blue) and a homeless shelter in Glens Falls, and it has been making great progress.
So why do we often feel as if the organization is in over its head?
For one thing, although big fundraising campaigns often run into delays, other organizations aren’t literally keeping people waiting in the cold while they work to meet their goals. The Open Door Mission has been forced to delay the opening of its cold weather shelter a couple of times this year and now its director, Kim Cook, will only commit to it opening “sometime this month.”
Secondly, because the Open Door is a Christian mission, its leaders see its purpose not only as practical — keeping people fed and warm — but as religious. You have to be an evangelical Christian to work at the Open Door, and part of the organization’s stated purpose is to proselytize — to direct those they help “toward the grace of Jesus Christ.”
Because of its explicitly religious mission, the Open Door is not eligible for all the government grants it would be otherwise. It also shuts itself off from collaboration and cooperation with community groups not interested in explicitly religious undertakings.
On the other hand, the Open Door’s Christian focus makes it more appealing to some people who are likely among its employees and most committed donors and volunteers.
We advocated in the past for a broad-based coalition of community groups, churches and government agencies to establish a homeless shelter in Glens Falls. That has been the model in Saratoga Springs, which has had an active and successful shelter for years.
But the Open Door has been the local organization that has stepped forward to lead this effort. The mission’s director and its board deserve tremendous credit for being willing to take on such a difficult task. Glens Falls doesn’t have a large population of homeless people, and it would be easy to overlook them. The Open Door has refused to do that.
The Open Door came up with a more ambitious plan for its shelter than we would have recommended, but it has been more successful with fundraising than we would have predicted. The organization plans to have the Code Blue facilities plus the homeless shelter plus the soup kitchen plus space for educational programs in its new building on Warren Street.
The organization needs a total of about $5 million to accomplish all its plans. It has expanded from a bare-bones operation to a staff of seven full-time employees. But it has raised about $900,000 (in cash and pledges) so far in its first phase, and although the work is a bit behind schedule, it is happening.
Members of the Glens Falls Planning Board have expressed some annoyance with the Open Door’s leaders for not providing them with more specifics about their project’s timeline. But nonprofit organizers can be stuck between difficult options with building projects — it’s hard to raise money until you start showing some progress, but once the project begins, it’s important to keep the work going, which takes money. The organizers of the Charles Wood Theatre project faced the same dilemma, and they also endured some delays.
The goal that everyone shares is to provide a place where people who lack a place to sleep can find one — first in the cold weather, but eventually, at any time during the year. The Open Door Mission has made significant progress toward that goal, and even though not everything is going according to schedule, we are confident the community will support the effort and before long the shelter will be open.