From The Saratogian, Jan. 16, 2014
Reader’s View: In Saratoga Springs people responded and showed their sense of community
By Elizabeth Powers
The big table in the center of the room was surrounded by people. Additional chairs had to be brought in so that others could sit down, making another circle of people. The room was packed full.
Two days before the event which prompted this meeting, Nancy Pitts, a homeless woman, was walking around Congress Plaza in the evening. My husband, Joe Powers, and I, happened to be there at the plaza. too.
We spoke to her, and realized how sick she seemed to be. Joe and I have been very concerned about homeless people. We have prayed, as have many others, for several homeless people we know, and the homeless in Saratoga in general.
Nancy said to Joe: “You know, when the cold gets inside here (she hit her chest), you know it’s over.”
Since Joe believed that she probably wouldn’t make it through the night, he called Senior Pastor Adam Wiegand of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church to ask if he could help. Pastor Wiegand also understood that Nancy was in danger, and agreed to drive over to the plaza to take her out of the situation.
Joe asked Nancy, and she declared that she was ready to leave everything behind, and trust the pastor to take her to safety.
Nancy gave us her cell phone number, which we gave to the pastor, who would call her. We left, feeling relieved, thinking that the situation had been taken care of.
However, Nancy never answered the pastor’s calls. Two days later she was found, apparently frozen to death.
It was a horrible, horrible tragedy. Such grief and remorse we felt. We should have stayed with her at least until the pastor got there. We didn’t know. We just didn’t know.
Nancy is gone. Nothing will change that.
But, amazingly, something good has arisen out of this horrific tragedy.
Many people were affected by this senseless death — jolted into action. Mayor Joanne Yepsen and others decided to do something about the homeless in Saratoga so that no more homeless people will freeze to death.
The coordinator of Albany’s Code Blue, Liz Hitt, had been invited to facilitate most of the meeting.
The atmosphere was intense. The room was filled with some of Saratoga’s finest: social workers, administrators, directors and concerned citizens — each having different skill sets, experiences and concerns, all brought together to focus on implementing a solution to a community problem.
Nancy’s death prompted this outpouring of energy — this high-level, finely tuned excellence — all being funneled into the common cause of developing Code Blue, Saratoga style.
Many of the leaders at the meeting spoke briefly, and directly to the point-further underscoring the intensity of the situation. In only a few days extremely cold nights would be upon us.
This would be the first time Saratoga would call a Code Blue-quite an historical moment for our community, and an answer to our prayers. I never imagined something like this could happen — especially in this place that is so often driven by the interests of the wealthy.
Nancy had said in our conversation with her at the plaza: “There’s nothing here for the homeless.”
But clearly that is changing. For many nights now, Code Blue has been a reality in Saratoga. Perhaps this initiative of brief shelter on only extremely cold winter nights, will be the first step toward a real emergency shelter for homeless people like Nancy. Miracles don’t only happen on 34th Street.
Elizabeth Powers is a Saratoga Springs resident.