This is upstate New York: Winter is never that far away.
Those northwest winds that were expected to bring cooler air this weekend, and unseasonably low temperatures Friday night? Just think of it as a reminder.
In preparation for below-freezing temperatures this winter, Cortland County officials are prepared to give people who need it a safe, warm place to stay.
Cortland County will provide people a safe, warm place to stay from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. on nights below freezing. The Legislature approved a $165,000 agreement recently with the Salvation Army to provide a warming center — part of the state’s Code Blue initiative to help people without homes when the weather is below freezing between Nov. 1 and April 30.
The center, operated by the Salvation Army, is a free program with no eligibility requirements.
“Ensuring that our residents — regardless of what condition they find themselves in — have a place to go where they can be safe and secure, having a place that is available, staffed by professional, caring individuals, and supported by our case managers at the Department of Social Services is probably the best that we can do …,” said Legislator Cathy Bischoff (D-Cortland).
The center will operate out of the Salvation Army on south Main Street and the Grace and Holy Spirit Church on Court Street each day the temperature goes below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
Last winter, the center helped 74 people, many of whom stayed multiple nights, said Salvation Army Capt. Rebecca March.
“A lot of people in our community do not see just how many individuals are struggling, and we need to work together to help the most vulnerable in our society,” March said. “This center is vital to ensuring that people are safe when temperatures drop and that no one is left vulnerable out on the street to face such unpleasant wintry conditions.”
This is the third year for the program. Before it, the county provided a motel or hotel room for the night. After instances of the rooms being left in disarray, the county considered other options.
Social Services Commissioner Kristen Monroe said the department has been aware of people living in vehicles and temporary shelters, putting their health and safety at risk.
Adults who do not receive temporary assistance remain eligible to stay at the center. People eligible for temporary assistance and families with children will be redirected to case managers and provided a motel room for the night instead.
Last winter, the open hours for the Salvation Army’s center were from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. daily and the Grace Holy Spirit Church’s hours were from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Friday and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends and holidays.
The center provides chairs, beds, restrooms, showers, washers and dryers, and meals and refreshments.
“Guests are assisted with clothing and introduced to the other services accessible to them in the community that can help them,” March said. “They also meet with a county caseworker who actively works with the warming center guests to better their individual situations.”
“The Salvation Army’s partnership has been invaluable in helping us protect some of our most vulnerable community members during times of unsafe, inclement weather,” Monroe said.