This story is part of a larger feature on 10 do-gooders from Saratoga and the rest of the Capital Region. To meet the other nine honorees and purchase tickets for annual fundraising event, visit our Capital Region Gives Back event page.
In December 2013, Nancy Pitts, a 54-year-old woman without a home, froze to death on the loading dock of the Saratoga Springs Senior Center. It shook the city to its core. “A lot of business owners came together and donated money to start the Code Blue shelter in Saratoga County,” says Lisa Mitzen. Two of those donors were Mitzen and her husband, Ed, founder of Fingerpaint. The goal of the Shelters of Saratoga (SOS) Code Blue Initiative was a simple one: to create a shelter in which people could spend the night when temperatures dipped below freezing or particularly inclement weather was in the forecast.
But the Mitzens wanted to better understand what SOS was all about, so they signed up for kitchen duty there one morning. “We drove in at 6am on a Saturday morning, and we thought, ‘A shelter in Saratoga Springs is probably going to have 10 people in it.’” They were stunned to find the shelter at capacity—and decided that they needed to do more.
By 2017, the Mitzens had provided funding for a permanent Code Blue shelter in Saratoga, which now stands at 4 Adelphi Street. It has proven a crucial step in addressing the city’s growing humanitarian crisis, one that’s become only more pronounced during the pandemic.
One of Mitzen’s biggest takeaways from her work with SOS—she now sits on its board—is just how pervasive the problem really is, locally. “The minute you hear the word ‘homeless,’ you picture that person down by the parking garage on Woodlawn,” she says. “People don’t understand that when they are walking up and down Broadway, they are passing by people without homes all the time. At the end of the day, I don’t like to use the word ‘homeless,’ because they’re people. They’re people.”