While Temperatures Drop Below Zero Degrees, Zoning Officials Won’t Let This Cold Weather Homeless Shelter Open

Tonight’s temperatures in Gloversville (New York) are predicted to drop to -4°C. This is bad news for approximately 80 people living in upstate New York who are left with little choice but to flee the frigid temperatures.

Around half could live on the second level of the building, which is owned by Free Methodist Church of the City. There are 40 beds ready for people to come in the cold.

Gloversville’s officials in zoning say the church’s commercial zoning and the city’s downtown location prevent it from being able to host a cold-weather shelter. They will not be able to fill the empty beds.

Richard Wilkinson of Gloversville’s Free Methodist Church says that “the situation is dire here” and that the city won’t allow them to open. It’s heartbreaking to know that there are people out there.

Wilkinson began trying to create a cold-weather shelter in late 2019 and has been doing so since then. Fulton County (which includes Gloversville) had no shelter for homeless people at the time. The opening of one would allow it to meet the obligations under an executive order from then-Gov in 2016, “code blue”. Andrew Cuomo should have a plan in place to provide shelter for the homeless in times of low temperatures.

Wilkinson says that the ideal location was in downtown Bleecker Street’s Free Methodist Church building. The ground floor used to be a YWCA location. There was enough room on the second floor to provide sleeping accommodations. It also featured a bathroom and commercial kitchen so that people could use the hot shower or hot meals.

Even better, it would be in downtown Toronto where the majority of homeless people are already present.

Wilkinson says, “All the homeless have down here in central London.” There are reasons. “There’s a lot of services. They can get food five to six times a week in Gloversville. It’s very beneficial to have it here.

In November 2019, Wilkinson, along with other community and church organizations, began to work towards making their dream a reality. Initial efforts were met with great support from the city and community.

In just days, they were able raise the $60,000 needed to open their Center for Hope. The effort was made possible by the generous donations of linens and pillows from local businesses. Mayor and former chief of police had active discussions about the shelter. Wilkinson says that only minor problems were found in the initial inspection of city buildings.

However, this momentum was stopped in February 2020, when Wilkinson was informed by the city that the shelter had a problem.

His property was located in the “Downtown Urban Core Form Based Overlay District”, which meant that code blue shelters might not be permitted. He would need to apply to the planning board to have permission for it to open.

The city granted the permit temporarily to the church in order for it to run a code-blue shelter. This was after community protest. To legalize it for the long term, however, the Free Methodist Church had to undergo a lengthy planning process that saw them develop a site plan along with architectural drawings.

Wilkinson, his lawyer and a representative of his firm made their case personally at a September 2020 planning committee meeting. Their shelter’s interim options in that year were a great success. The shelter was able to house 27 people in its winter quarters, as well as a few of those who had come through the doors for treatment for drug or mental addiction.

One of the most serious issues was that one shelter resident urinated before a nearby business.

The shelter could be opened because code blue shelters are not allowed in commercial zones. However, similar activities like hotel rooms and rooming houses were permitted.

All of it was incontestable to the planning board. The planning board sent Wilkinson an October letter informing him that Wilkinson’s property was not zoned to allow the construction of code blue shelters.

Wilkinson countered by taking his case to the city’s zoning appeals board. There, he claimed that the board misunderstood zoning codes and that his shelter for the homeless should be permitted open.

It was unsuccessful as well. A letter from the Zoning Board of Appeals, dated January 22nd 2021, confirmed earlier city decisions that code-blue shelters are not permitted in commercial zones. The shelter on Bleecker Street would need to obtain either a zoning variance, or close.

The Gloversville City Council mirrored these administrative rejections for Wilkinson’s code-blue shelter.

New Year’s Day 2021 saw the council pass an amendment in the city’s code of zoning that allows code blue shelters to be built in commercial zones but prohibits them from being constructed in downtown’s “form-based overlay zone”, which is where the Bleecker Street shelter is.

Wilkinson states that 2021 was the year that funding was provided by the city to establish a temporary shelter further away from the downtown. But that didn’t work out. According to Wilkinson, the new shelter had eight beds and only one bathroom. There were many sinks that broke, and there was a lot of wind in winter.

In February 2021, Gloversville was sued by the Free Methodist Church. The lawsuit against Gloversville is still pending.

WTEN (local ABC affiliate) reported today that WTEN was informed by the local ABC affiliate that papers were signed this morning for the lease of a VFW hall in the downtown area. The shelter will house 20 people and serve as a temporary code blue shelter.

“We were aware that it was very cold outside. WTEN heard this afternoon from Mayor Vincent DeSantis that he wanted to offer this service to the community and especially those in dire need of shelter.

According to a release by the Center of Hope, its advisory board stated that they were “grateful” for city leaders acknowledging homeless people and helping them put together shelters.
“Temporary Solution”

Wilkinson: There are reasons He said that he was not involved in the efforts of the city and doesn’t know the type of services or facilities available at the temporary shelter. But he says he’s glad that the city is getting people out of the cold.

He said that this doesn’t affect his plans for opening a shelter on the Bleecker Street property, and that the lawsuit against his church will not be stopped.

Wilkinson shared his thoughts on the shelter. There are reasons Yesterday’s news was that the city tried everything it could to stop his charity efforts, and people are now suffering.

It’s freezing. Wilkinson states that all it is is an inconsistency in city codes which prevents people from being able to sleep in warmth. It’s absurd to me that anyone would let people sleep outside when they have a warm place to go.