By ALISSA SCOTT
Recorder News Staff
Meandering along city streets, Sharah Yaddaw met a 20-year old homeless man who had recently settled in Amsterdam.
"He had just gotten out of jail," said Yaddaw, Street Outreach Project coordinator for CAPTAIN Youth and Family Services. "We see him smoking cigarettes and cursing up a storm and come to find out he was homeless and had no place to stay that night."
As part of a new drop-in center at 303 E. Main St., the building that houses Creative Connections Art Center, coordinators will survey the area for other at-risk youth who need a place to stay, need help getting clean or just need help with some homework.
"We immediately connected him to a safe shelter, where he had all of his meals provided for and he was able to get a job and now has an apartment," Yaddaw said. "One of the main points I want to make with that story is that we can walk up to this youth and say, 'Oh, this guy just got out of jail, what a trouble-maker. He can help himself.'
"We could have made all kinds of assumptions about him, but in the process of getting to know him ... we came to realize that at 13 he was kicked out on the streets by his mom."
The Street Outreach Project Drop-In Center has been opened for two weeks unofficially, and has already had over 20 youth, ages 13-17, the age range it caters to, make use of its services.
Because of budgetary constraints, it will only be open from 1-3 p.m. on Tuesday afternoons, but there will always be at least two staff members on duty.
Andy Gilpin, director of program services for CAPTAIN Youth and Family Services, said that often within the four other counties it serves, community support and volunteers help keep the facility open for longer periods of time.
Inside the facility, youth can receive referrals, case management, personal hygiene items, food, clothing, as well as tutoring and other assistance.
Racquel Nelson, a youth development specialist with the program stationed in Gloversville, said part of her job involves walking around the streets, making conversation with strangers.
"That was really hard for me at first," Nelson said. "But we have such a diverse staff, so if one of us isn't able to connect with a youth, someone else is."
Nelson, at five-feet in height, said she uses her short stature and young appearance to make her contacts feel at ease. She even bought a pair of Converse sneakers to blend in with the "more skater-ish" cultured kids in Gloversville.
"Kids can't help where they came from," Nelson said. "But you give them a little push to help them succeed."
Yaddaw said it's hard to tell if homelessness or drug addiction is greater in Amsterdam than in other areas, but it is more "underground" than surrounding communities.
"We've definitely had a disproportionate amount of youth from Amsterdam," said Yaddaw, who has connected around seven Amsterdam youth to homeless shelters recently. "It's hard to say because every area is so different."
In Saratoga Springs, for example, Yaddaw said the homelessness is blatant; teens pushing around shopping carts filled with their worldly goods is not an uncommon sight.
"In this community (Amsterdam,) it's a little bit more underground," Yaddaw said. "There are better places to hide. There are abandoned buildings everywhere, so it's not as visible."
Those with more questions about the program, who may not want to drop in to the center, can call or text (518) 469-7897. If people under 13, the cut-off for admittance into the drop-in center, feel they are in danger or need assistance, Yaddaw said CAPTAIN can still help, they just won't be able to enter the facility. She recommended other art programs Creative Connections offers as another option.
Deputy mayor Joe Isabel, 5th Ward Alderman Rich Leggiero and State Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk (D-Duanesburg) attended an open house welcoming the program Tuesday afternoon and each spoke briefly.