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DRAFT Saratoga Cares Six Point Plan
1. Create a Continuum of Care to reduce homelessness and panhandling in our City: We need a continuum of care that will focus on reducing homelessness. The immediate actions that should be taken are: (1) Finding a new home site for a Code Blue Shelter; and (2) Expanding the availability of services at a drop-in center to provide individuals who are homeless with better options to obtain help every day versus living on the street and panhandling. This effort is being led by a consortium of nonprofit organizations with support from the City and private sector volunteers. Beyond those immediate needs, the creation of a continuum of care should consider a “housing first” model and coordinated outreach to those who are homeless and/or panhandle. For instance, mental health issues are often noted as the root of many of the problems with our homeless population. As a result, the Departments of County Social Services and County Mental Health must be engaged partners and leaders in this effort. This is important given their access to state resources for housing and shelter as well as expertise in providing critically important services to at-risk populations. A significant challenge to the creation of this continuum of care is money. Funds from the public and private sectors will be needed for securing new sites as well as for short and long term operations of all required programs.
2. Fundraising for a Purpose – To Create a Continuum of Care to Reduce Homelessness: Beyond identifying locations for Code Blue and a drop-in center, the consortium now working to create a continuum of care should develop a budget that estimates the costs to create and operate these facilities and programs. The public sector - - led by Saratoga County and the City of Saratoga Springs - - should identify all federal and state grants from which monies can be secured to help finance the costs of these efforts. Securing public sector revenues is a priority. While grants are being written, the community must simultaneously organize a comprehensive plan to fill the gaps between what the public sector can contribute and what is needed. This may include but is not limited to: growing participation in Code Blue fundraising events; a specific capital campaign; the installation of drop boxes downtown; establishing a point of sale option for customers and visitors to contribute; an online donation portal with social sharing options; as well as educational and marketing materials that will stress the importance of donating money to this cause versus giving money to panhandlers directly. Special care must be made to ensure that this mission driven fundraising effort doesn’t detract from or compete with the funds already being committed and donated to area charitable and nonprofit organizations working with those in need in our community.
3. Ensure a Sustainable Community Policing Effort to protect our vibrant downtown: Last summer and again this spring, downtown residents and businesses have reported fewer issues with aggressive panhandling when City Police Officers are walking the beat downtown. In theory and practice, this type of community policing program with officers regularly assigned to walk throughout the downtown and to patrol parking lots represents a broader problem solving approach where the results will be measured by the absence of crime and disorder versus the number of arrests. The City is funding these increased patrols this year by allowing the Police Department to spend more in overtime. We appreciate this short-term solution but are seeking a longer sustainable effort. The City Council will therefore investigate how many officers may need to be hired to sustain this level of service without jeopardizing other public safety priorities and the cost of doing so. The City Council shall report to the community as soon as possible how this downtown community policing effort can be sustained this year and beyond.
4. Identify, Establish and Enforce Reasonable Laws/Ordinances: We need to be sure our laws governing panhandling protect the rights of individuals as well as the rights of downtown residents and businesses. The City Attorney should create a document that identifies existing laws that are now on the books and explain what activities related to panhandling are legal or not. As the City Council adopts new ordinances, this document should be updated and shared openly. The City should promote and make it easier for downtown private property owners to file a trespass notice so that City Police can protect their private property from loitering, panhandling, and damage. The City should review the laws to enforce no loitering provisions related to benches and bus shelters associated with public transportation related facilities. When an individual is arrested and that person is a Veteran, there should be better coordination between city court, the VA, the Public Defender, the DA, and the police so that this person can be taken to the VA Hospital for treatment, housing, or support services. Every effort should be made to consistently enforce the busking law that requires anyone performing for money to do so from the curb in ten feet in order to reduce conflict with store fronts and entrance/exit doors.
5. Establish a New Downtown Community Watch program: A “neighborhood watch” program is one of the most effective and least costly answers to crime prevention in neighborhoods around the world. To get this started, the DBA, SAD, Chamber and Convention Bureau will meet with the City’s Police Department to discuss best practices for forming, organizing and sustaining a downtown neighborhood watch program that will include volunteers who are residents, business owners and those who work downtown. The downtown business groups will then hold a meeting of downtown business owners, workers and residents to identify volunteers willing to participate in this effort. The City Police will then assign an officer to train the volunteer members of the watch program on security techniques, observation skills, and crime reporting. The Police Department will offer guidance on the types of crimes that may affect the downtown area, like aggressive panhandling, and the ways in which the City can be called to help. A key benefit of such a neighborhood watch program is that people who live and work downtown will be more alert, observant and provided with an efficient means by which to report suspicious activity immediately to the police. The neighborhood watch volunteers will also be asked to share information about the activity being reported with others in the downtown.
6. Inform and Engage the Public to mobilize everyone to help: If we are to succeed with the implementation of this plan, we will need to create a comprehensive communications plan that will help to educate and engage not just the key stakeholders who have been involved thus far but our entire community. A multimedia communications plan can help with fundraising, identifying what resources are available, increasing awareness, sharing our successes, discussing our challenges, and building a movement that will inspire others to help. The plan must involve how to coordinate the activities undertaken as part of this plan as well as new information we may learn. We live in a caring and compassionate community. Whenever there is a challenge, our community has found a way to come together to help. We just need to communicate what needs to be done and why and our community will respond. Doing this in a proactive, positive, organized and comprehensive way will help to ensure our success.
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