Shared from the 11/2/2017 Albany Times Union eEdition

COMMUNITY

Helping hands fill an empty space

Center in former Albany school set to aid homeless

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Photos by Paul Buckowski / Times Union

People gather for a groundbreaking ceremony for the Hoffman Family Center on Sheridan Avenue on Wednesday in Albany. The center, when completed, will include new apartments for formerly homeless individuals and a new community hub inside the center. Hoffman Car Wash & Jiffy Lube has committed $500,000 to the project.

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Carrie Hoffman, representing the Hoffman family, addresses those gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony for the Hoffman Family Center on Sheridan Ave.

Albany

A drop-in center and apartments for formerly homeless individuals will soon occupy the space of the vacant, former St. Casimir’s School on Sheridan Avenue.

The Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless on Wednesday broke ground on the mixed-use project at 315 Sheridan Ave., that will be named the Hoffman Family Center due to Hoffman Car Wash & Jiffy Lube’s commitment of $500,000 to the project.

Carrie Hoffman, one of the family members, said the reason for making this donation — the largest single contribution it has ever made to a not-for-profit — was simple.

“The need is real, and it’s impossible to ignore those in the community who struggle the most – the homeless, the hungry and the poor,” Hoffman said. “Together we embrace possibility, together we will help Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless improve lives.”

Interfaith has raised $5.2 million of the $5.8 million needed for the project.

The current drop-in center on South Swan Street provides resources like a hot meal, a place to do laundry or enroll in health insurance to 1,600 people per year.

Many of the services, like providing hot meals and help with job applications, will shift from the South Swan location to Sheridan Avenue when renovations are completed. However, the summer youth program, the code blue shelter and the ambassador program will remain at South Swan, Interfaith’s Communications Manager Erin Coufal said.

Sheridan Avenue will provide more space to accommodate the nearly 90 people who visit the center each day, she added.

It’ll also bring needed services to the West Hill community, said Interfaith’s Executive Director Janine Robitaille.

“The need is there, and we are really excited to try and make a difference in this neighborhood as we have in lower Sheridan,” she said.

Along with the family center, 315 Sheridan will include five one-bedroom apartments on the second floor of the former school for previously homeless individuals, Robitaille said.

Soon after the project was announced in 2013, it became embroiled in a legal battle brought by four West Hill residents, including Democratic candidate for the 3rd Ward, Joyce Love.

The lawsuit claimed the city Zoning Board of Appeals failed to properly consider how the facility, which offers services to the homeless and others living in poverty, would impact the neighborhood. It also claimed Interfaith failed to prove that failure to receive the variance would create a financial hardship.

Love and the three area neighbors later dropped the lawsuit in 2015, allowing the project to proceed.

Love said she has no qualms with the project now, and is glad this resource will be available to people.

“I just hope that the people who manage the place can control the people who come in and out because most of us are homeowners and we’re very concerned about the value of property,” she said.

Current 3rd Ward Councilman Ron Bailey has been supportive of the project since it was first announced, and said he understands the benefit this will have for the community. Bailey lost to Love in the Democratic Primary, but is running on the Working Families and Independence parties lines in the general election.

“The fight that we had to put together just to get here today is worth it,” he said. “I know firsthand what this building is going to do for my community – with human service programs helping families and bringing families together.”

Robitaille said improvements will take a year to complete, but he’s happy it’s finally moving forward.

“It’s kind of surreal. I feel like we knew this day would come,” she said. “We knew we were fighting the right fight, and ... right prevailed, and the needs of the community prevailed.”

afries@timesunion.com 518-454-5353 @ mandy_fries

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