A homelessness task force in Otsego County has plans to install a warming station in Oneonta.

The task force was formed a little more than a year ago following an A.O. Fox Hospital ethics committee discussion on what could be done to help homeless community members on nights it's too cold to be outside, according to Fox Medical Staff Affairs Coordinator Jennifer Schuman.

Members include representatives from Friends of Recovery of Delaware and Otsego Counties, the Oneonta Common Council, Opportunities for Otsego and more.

Schuman said the warming station is related to the state's Code Blue mandate, which requires counties to make sure shelter is provided for people on days it's below 32 degrees Fahrenheit or when there is inclement weather. 

“So many of the people we see just feel that nobody cares what happens to them, nobody cares that it's freezing cold outside and they're living under the bridge," Catholic Charities Housing Program Manager JoAnne Bragonier said. "It's a scary kind of lonely."

Bragonier emphasized that the warming station is not the same as shelter, as a warming station only provides temporary respite from harsh, cold-weather conditions, as opposed to longer-term housing provided by shelters.

"If we had the money to do that, we wouldn't need a warming station because we would already have a place where people could be," Bragonier said. 

Gabrielle Argo, regional marketing, public relations and community engagement manager at Fox, said in an email that the warming station will be in the city of Oneonta with access to public transportation. It will be reasonably close to available hot meals each day of the week, like Saturday's Bread, The Lord's Table and the Salvation Army, she said.

The warming station's amenities will include at least one bathroom; a dry, warm and comfortable space for people to rest; and hopefully hot coffee, a pot of soup or some other hot snack, she said.

The station needs four things before it can start to come together, which are a location, funding, support and a plan, Schuman said.

While the task force has a shared vision for the station's amenities, it hasn't settled on a location yet, Argo said. As for funding, the task force is in the process of identifying grant resources it's looking into for start-up money, Schuman said.

"If opportunities presented themselves, we would move it forward as quickly as possible," Schuman said. "Getting those opportunities to align is where we're at right now."

Deborah Roberts works for Friends of Recovery of Delaware and Otsego Counties. She said it has an open door policy where people don't have to fill out paperwork, and there is coffee throughout the day and usually food available. She said people often tell her they wish there were more places with "no questions asked" policies.

"I think having somewhere people can go where they don't feel like they're just another number per se because all the statistics and data are being reported back and they know that, I think that's important," Roberts said.

Bonita Gibb is a community health data analyst for the Mohawk Valley Population Health Improvement Program. She said homelessness doesn't have a socioeconomic status attached to it, noting that someone could have a car, a job or even a piece of land, but still may not have a home.

"That sense of having a facility that people could go to when they need it at the moment they need it, regardless of their age, their past, their socioeconomic status, the assets they have in their bank, that inspired me to stick with this group personally and professionally," Gibb said.

Schuman said the homelessness task force usually meets the second Monday of the month at 4 p.m. in the Administration Conference Room of Fox Hospital, and anyone is invited to attend and share their ideas.

Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at skarikehalli@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter.

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