Since 1981, the Samaritan Center has provided meals for the needy in downtown Syracuse. Tucked into a Montgomery street alley, the current center has no heat, no air conditioning, no windows and is not handicapped accessible. Staff have always found a way to help those who need their services - but they have been seeing a lot more since the 2007 economic collapse
"People that were teetering on the edge found themselves tipping over and from that pint on, we saw increased numbers every year," said executive director Mary Beth Frey.
A search committee looked at two dozen properties and decided on a vacant space at the corner of James and Catherine streets. It has handicapped ramps, plenty of natural light and bus line access - but business and neighbors in the Hawley Green neighborhood are preparing a legal challenge to block the move. The Hawley Green area has seen a renaissance over the past fifteen years with many more homes are in the process of being restored right now. Mike LaFlair, the executive director of the Northeast Hawley Development Association says the area is already oversaturated with non-profit agencies - and another could hurt the progress being made.
"There's been a lot of investment and people are afraid because they have invested so heavily down here and most of it has been private money. We're hoping to do more with the city and state and I'm hopeful that will happen but there is a general fear that investment is for naught," said LaFlair.
Several Hawley Green businesses and residents are preparing to challenge the zoning board's approval of the site. Many believe the zoning board should have held a public forum. Mary Beth Frey believes a lot of the concerns neighbors have about the Samaritan Center are unfounded but says she doesn't want to put clients into an area where they are unwelcome.
"People will appreciate the mission and what you're trying to do but it's very difficult to see poverty, it's very difficult to have those things in front of you every day," said Frey.Representatives from the Samaritan Center and Hawley Green businesses are scheduled to meet September 23. Both sides are hopeful they can find a solution.