10 Franklin Street, Saratoga Springs, NY

Shedding Light on Saratoga’s Homelessness

October 12th, 2011

It began with a phone call as I was helping Debbie at the front desk on a typical, busy Wednesday morning in July.  Upon taking the call, I was informed by a well-spoken woman on the other end of the phone that she was recently homeless, looking for food and shelter until she could start her job a week later. 

“I don’t know what to do,” she said, her voice sounding shaky and defeated.  “I’m so embarrassed.  I’ve never been in a situation like this before.”

She had been to DSS.  The shelter was full, as it often is during the summer months, and she was starting to feel like she had overstayed her welcome with friends.  I tried to reassure her on the phone, and I could feel my chest tighten as I sensed her desperation.  I invited her to come to Franklin Community Center, where we could help her with food to bring to her friend’s home where she was staying the next two nights, and I explained that she could fill out an application for our low-income housing apartment building, where we could put her on the waiting list.  She said she’d be in soon.    

As I hung up the call, a group of women who live at a local shelter in town came in to pick up vouchers for our free store at 101 Washington Street.  I decided to ask the ladies standing in the office whether there might be any openings where they live, and a quick reply offered a glimmer of hope for the woman I had just spoken with on the phone. 

“We’ll have an opening at our shelter on Friday,” said the kind-hearted woman in front of me.  She was eager to help, empathizing with that feeling of desperation, and she shared some important contact information for me to pass along when I met the woman on the phone in person. 

When she arrived at the center 20 minutes later, she asked for me.  I sat down with her for a moment in the lobby to take down her information.  She shuddered as she listed “homeless” as her address, and I tried to remain positive as I shared the information regarding the women’s shelter.  As I returned back from the food pantry with some groceries for her, I could see she was crying. 

“Thank you so much for helping me,” she said.  “I appreciate it so much.  I can’t even believe I’m here right now.”

As she tearfully whispered her concerns to me, another woman getting assistance overheard. 

“I’m sorry to listen in, but did I hear you say you need a place to live?” she asked.  “I saw you crying, and I know how scary it is.  I’ve been there, done that,” she explained.  She went on to say that in one week—right around the same time the woman I was helping would begin her new job—she would have a mobile home for rent.  The two exchanged information, offering another option for the woman who, just minutes ago, was not only homeless, but hopeless.

There are moments in my job every day that make me incredibly proud to do what I do, but in this case, it was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.  It’s about people in need, supporting other people in similar, difficult situations.  It’s about empathy, kindness, and a willingness to help, no matter how big or small your offering is.

It’s also about a very real, but seldom-seen picture right here in our city; because on the other side of town, away from the galas, the glitz and the glamour, there is a different crowd, struggling to make ends meet and relying on others to help them when they don’t know where to turn.  And in some cases, it’s about a lack of options, with not enough affordable housing for the people who work in our city to keep the tourism industry thriving.

It’s not about feeling guilty.  We should have fun and revel in all of the amazing things our city has to offer and be grateful for what we have.  But when we find ourselves judging others without knowing who they are or where they’ve been, or when we catch ourselves dwelling on the superficial, let us be reminded of those who might not be so lucky. 

It’s a lesson I learned at the perfect time, from people whom I least expected to teach me.  And I couldn’t be more thankful.