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New Homes, New Hope

A new housing project and rehabilitation program help Capital Region homeless change their lives

by Michael Bielawski on December 18, 2013

 

Today (Thursday, Dec. 19), Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings will cut the ribbon on 44 newly renovated studio apartments on Trinity Avenue, a project that is part of the Capital City Rescue Mission (259 South Pearl St.).

The mission has been in operation since 1949, and for the past 32 years, executive director Perry Jones and his wife Susan, who is the director of development, have led it as it has grown to become one of the Northeast’s largest shelters.

“They aren’t rental, they are called programmatic apartments,” said Jones. “You are signing up for a program and you are working outside. You are paying a little less than one hundred a week [$95], and you are getting a fully furnished studio apartment with utilities, a program, counseling and some food.”

While helping the homeless with food, shelter and clothing may be the immediate goal of any such charity effort, the ultimate goal on Trinity Avenue is to get people back on their feet and self-sufficient. The apartments are built specifically for those who are transitioning their lives from the streets to entry-level jobs and stable lifestyles.

“It’s that next step,” said Jones. “Once you finish our nine-month recovery program, you say, ‘Well, I don’t have a lot of money and I’m going to get a basic entry level job, so how am I going to get an apartment?’ So they are going to be in very poor sections.” He added that he thinks this project gives the people in these situations a better chance.

The construction of the project marked the first phase of getting people who utilize the mission back on their feet. “A lot of the labor done on it was done by homeless that were taught building trades. It was a gutted-out warehouse when we started. Now there are 28 apartments of 44 completed and occupied,” said Jones.

He also said the number of homeless that the mission serves has been increasing. “We’re packed. . . . In fact we’re packed more than we thought we would be for this time of year. Last night we were at 215 [sleeping over] compared with this time last year we were at about 190. I don’t always know why, I mean the weather can be a problem, and of course there is the economy. Homelessness in Albany has its ups and downs, but this year it’s been up.”

A ‘code blue’ operation means that when the temperature gets below 10 degrees or if there is more than a foot of snow, the mission lets anyone in, with none of the usual questions asked—ID requirements for instance. Jones noted that on Sunday night (Dec. 15), a homeless woman froze to death in Saratoga.

“In the nights that we’ve been having lately . . . they could go to some abandoned buildings or under bridges, but that’s not easy. I know very few homeless people that can survive in those conditions. You can count them on one hand, and they are usually veterans, they know their stuff. But if you’ve got addiction issues then you are not thinking about your safety.”

At least 51 people have taken advantage of code blue this December alone. Jones said that they may otherwise have been in trouble. “All it takes is a little bit of drinking [on a cold night] and you could get hypothermia.” Drugs are also an issue, street and prescription. “Crack and heroin are killing this city, I hate that . . . and of course there’s [Oxycontin].”

The mission operates independently. “We have zero government support and we do not want any, because we are a Gospel agency and we just don’t want to mix church and state. We have 200 supporting churches of the Christian variety. We’re not against the government at all; it’s just that this is a faith-based effort,” said Jones.

In addition to housing, the mission serves about 650 meals a day and takes in about 215 people per night. They give away about 40,000 articles of clothing per month through their free shop, Blessing Dales. They have a free medical clinic with a doctor and nurse practitioner. Jones said, “We are seeing 45 people every time we open,” Jones said. “We give medicine to 95 percent of the people that come in, free.”

Jones said that many people who use the services do move on to a better life. He highlighted the “Jail to Yale” story of George Chochos, a man who revived his life through the mission. As the title of his testimonial suggests, he went from being in jail for drugs to attending Yale University’s Master of Divinity Program on full scholarship. “The Rescue Mission has helped me to successfully reacclimate to society and to stay connected to the Christian community,” Chochos said.

Jones said that the apartments already are having an impact. “You are in transition; you are learning how to live independently. One [man] got in his new apartment and said to me, ‘You know, just 10 months ago I was doing crack on the street. I went through your nine-month program, and now I’m in a new apartment and I have a job.’”

The mission is currently trying to win $25,000 for the clinic through MVP Health Care by asking for votes at mvpprojectgo.com.