Gloversville church continues fight for code blue shelter after city zoning shut it down

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GLOVERSVILLE, N.Y. (NEWS10) — One Gloversville Pastor has an empty code blue shelter—Center of Hope—this year after city code shut it down because of commercial zoning restrictions. Free Methodist Church of Gloversville is left without options after they filed a lawsuit against the Gloversville Zoning Board of Appeals.

Pastor Richard Wilkinson said the hardest part is when people come to the doors of 33 Bleeker Street asking for overnight shelter and he has to turn them away.

Currently, The Center of Hope runs a soup kitchen on the first floor and provides meals to the hungry in the community. Upstairs are forty empty beds and hundreds of donations for a shelter they can’t run. Wilkinson said his church has identified over 80 people living on Gloversville streets alone.

“One is too many. If one person has to sleep in this [cold weather] it’s one too many,” Wilkinson said. “We know of at least two families with children that are sleeping on the streets that are out in this.”

Wilkinson and a team of citizens put together a shelter in 2020 at a former YMCA at 33 Bleeker Street. However, before opening for the Winter, the City of Gloversville’s Code Enforcement Officer, David Fox, notified Wilkinson that the shelter was “not an acceptable use for premises located in the Commercial District and in the Form-Based Overlay District.”

“But we went back and forth and finally the mayor agreed to give us a temporary occupancy permit for that year,” Wilkinson said.

The following year, the zoning board wouldn’t budge when the Center of Hope appealed the decision.

“The reason we have these rules is so that developers, entrepreneurs, people who develop these buildings can rely on those ordinances,” Mayor Desantis said.

The city’s solution was to team up with Wilkinson and the Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless and open a separate shelter at 144 East Fulton Street. 

“The problem that we ran into was we didn’t have operational expenses,” Gloversville Mayor Vincent Desantis said.

Additionally, Wilkinson said the Fulton Street location had less than 10 beds and was too far from the heart of downtown for those without a home to walk with all of their belongings.

The Center of Hope’s board said they don’t need money to open the Bleeker Street code blue shelter this Winter, they just need permission to open their doors. 

Currently, no code blue shelter exists in Fulton County. Wilkinson has been instructed to send those in need of shelter to social services in Johnstown several miles away.

“Their minds are thinking, well, we want to beautify this community, we want to make it grow and the homeless don’t fit into that mix,” Dolores Fleischut, Founding Board Member, said.

According to Fulton County Social Services, those in need can contact social services and they will be put up in a hotel for the night.

“In 2021 Gloversville received funding from the federal government under the American Recovery
and Restructuring Act and the city council voted to submit a use plan that included $200,000 to retrofit
a building to serve as a permanent emergency shelter for those in need,” Desantis said in a statement sent to News10 ABC. “This would provide more comprehensive services by way of stabilization rather than simply rescue for the night. An informal search was conducted for a possible site.”

Center of Hope organizers said they support the Mayor’s shelter plan but hope the city will make an exception in the meantime.

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