WHERE DO THE HOMELESS STAY
City Services and Ministries Pull Together During Sub Zero Weather
By Edie Johnson
This week brought days of, if not the coldest weather in recent history for Orange County residents. But for some in Newburgh it could have been life or death, especially for some of the homeless, who often live in crumbling, abandoned and vacant buildings like the one on this cover, and others that are in worse condition but more accessible.
But there were some services to help, at least for the night that went double digits below zero. Poverty and homelessness are often not simple, as some people seem to think. Our heartstrings are pulled when tragedies occur related to homelessness, but we often get distracted to other things once an emergency is over. This week there was a small yet dedicated ARMY of compassionate and hard-working people trying to make sure that the homeless of Newburgh could and would come to one of its safe and compassionate shelters. Many homeless have a pattern that has worked for them for years, but it includes bringing blankets and a few belongings to one of the many crumbling buildings on the lower East Side, where they have safe refuge from the cold for the night. Buildings such as those could have resulted in multiple deaths during this week’s “Polar Vortex”. And so RECAP (the Regional Economic Action Program) on Broadway helped funnel individuals to safe havens, in addition to the ongoing work they regularly do to identify the poor and give them a path to better living conditions. Warming centers at Newburgh Ministries buildings at 104 S. Landers Street, and Winterhaven on Johnston Street were able to house 17 and 35 homeless people respectively, overnight. Both places have regular drop-in services where visitors, many stop in for coffee, tea, a bite to eat and someone understanding to talk to. Over the past 24 hours, Director of Newburgh Ministries, Colin Jarvis, said that the Landers Street site had about 150 GUESTS stopping in. They serve about 255 regular guests. If the overnight capabilities reach their limit because of insurance restrictions, United Way will stop in to bring them to another overnight Warming Station. No one is left uncared for!
Newburgh Ministries Thrift Shop
But Jarvis added that what is missing is a long term plan. People with problems, he said, are often more comfortable continuing to do what they have done in the past. All too frequently that means staying in a vacant building, or even at times in a tent in the woods outside of the City.
RECAP Office on Broadway
At the bottom of the problem is an extreme lack of affordable housing in the City. Those who receive state aid cannot afford the prices in most apartment buildings, not unless they share with often 5 or 10 or sometimes even 15 others. Those with serious mental health issues at one time had hospitals in which they could stay. Society took them from hospitals, sometimes to halfway houses but more often than not they are on the street. Those with addiction issues sometimes prefer not to seek help, because along with it will be pressure to enter programs they are not ready for.
Jarvis emphasized that It takes a lot of strength for staff to find other partner groups with the potential to lift these people’s lives. While the City of Newburgh is trying very hard to develop housing alternatives that will work, and Legislator Kevindaryan Lujan works to assemble yet more connected resources at the RECAP main office, it is often the caring and respectful person-to-person contact that matters the most. A “drop-in” afternoon that includes a smile and possibly some helpful counseling from staff that has become a friend, and puts a smile on a guest’s face can make all the difference. Meanwhile assistive programs, the cost of the warming centers and supplies they offer cost money, and especially with the doubling of visitors during the Polar Vortex.
Before judging the poor, Jarvis said, be aware that some of these people “have been through Hell and back, a number of times.”
The services are generally free, and rely much on donations from those who have enough to give, to a brother or sister who is less fortunate. Supplies and monetary donations are very much needed now, especially with at least a month or more of winter weather yet ahead. Clothing is always welcome at the ministries thrift shop. And food supplies, which are especially low right now, can be dropped off right at the 104 S. Landers St. building. Monetary donations can be given at the locations or online at : http://www.newburghministries.org or http://www.recap.org, or call 845-561-0070 for additional information, or to seek services for yourself or others.
(Photos by Edie Johnson)