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Code Blue or not, homeless shelters busy this winter

Mike Desmond

The Code Blue shelters were open and crowded Monday night, as the system tried to persuade homeless people to get inside and get a hot meal amidst desperate cold.


The Harbor House shelter on Genesee Street in downtown Buffalo is one of three in the city, probably the smallest. There were enough of the city's homeless inside for some of the crowd from Harbor House to be shuttled to the Matt Urban Center shelter near Buffalo's Central Terminal.

They helped prepare Harbor House for the night, with tables and chairs moved aside to make room for a crowded area of cots, with sheets, blankets and towels.

Mostly men were there Monday night for some warmth and some warm food cooked by a chef with upper-crust Manhattan restaurant experience. Cody Emory had come to Buffalo in an attempt to get to know his son, but his one-time girlfriend wouldn't allow it.

"I was working in a factory, working on machines and stuff like that," Emory said, "but then I got stranded out here and made me lose my job. It's been a bad month."

Other temporary residents talked of job loss, drug use or "the wheels fell off." Antonio, "the little mayor," was open about his problems.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

"I've got 35 years of drug experience and juice. I'm 25 days clean now," Antonio said. "I'm here because I'm homeless because of drugs. Any sponsors out there that want to help me get into an apartment, that would be great. I am clean on my own. I put myself into recovery. Let's hope it works."

Harbor House does not require people receiving services to be clean of drugs or sober because of its specialty in dealing with mental illness, something often said to be endemic among the homeless.

Anthony Freeman was there wearing a new job ID card lanyard. Freeman was skeptical that working people were homeless because they did not earn enough.

"That's a sorry excuse, ultimately. You should make what your job work. You should make what money you're making every Friday work, your paycheck work," he said. "I don't want to hear what you are doing with your money while you're sitting on the street. Spend it? Oh, yeah."

Harbor House also helps people get medical care. Jacob Hoffman is site manager. Like many employees of the agency, he has had a stretch of homelessness.

"Harbor House specializes in severe, persistent mental illness, so this will be people living and dealing with addiction, maybe un-medicated, maybe seeing a therapist, maybe not," Hoffman said. "What does separate us from the other sites is that mental health piece."

Resource Associate Jacquelyn Spencer said a lot of people show up most nights.

"On a Code Blue night, there may be like 40 or so people that go in and out," Spencer said. "On a non-Code Blue night, there may be 60 to 70 between the hours of 9 p.m. and 7 a.m."

The shelter has smoke breaks outside during the long and cold night. Spencer said Harbor House is centrally located.

"This is one of the places where people know they can meet up here and get on the van and go to Code Blue at Matt Urban or if cold enough St. Luke's," she said.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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