Unsung Heroes: Restoring Dignity and Offering Hope to Rockland’s Homeless

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Helping Hands' Raoul Cansino speaks with a guest
Helping Hands’ Raoul Cansino speaks with a guest

Board president of Helping Hands of Rockland Raoul Cansino has worked tirelessly and without any pay after bringing the non-profit into being.

Cansino, a German language teacher and Community Service Chair at Green Meadow Waldorf School in Chestnut Ridge has been doing Midnight Runs with his students in the Green Medal Service Club, delivering food and clothing to homeless in New York City.

Through his acquaintance with Rev. Angela Boatright of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Spring Valley he decided to help those in Rockland County who were needy after learning homeless individuals were in the church’s program were falling asleep during the day for lack of sleep at night.

She called a crisis meeting to help the county’s homeless, which “was an eye-opener for my students,” Cansino said. “They helped found our efforts.”

He was invited to that crisis meeting. “Only 11 people came, and most were from her church,” he said. It was there he met Roy, who was living off Route 59 for four and one-half years. “He was interested in helping. I asked him for an introduction to others like him,” Cansino said.

His Sunday tour of the bushes, byways and bridges in Spring Valley introduced him to 14 other people in need. “Since there was nowhere for single, homeless people, Cansino organized a Midnight Run in Rockland with his students armed with food, clothing and a map he made after the day with Roy.

As more people became interested, attendance at the weekly meetings at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church increased. “The second time we met homeless and day laborers who became homeless and were not used to living outside,” he said.

Cansino and the late Thomas A. McCabe (for whom the Outreach Center was named when it opened in 2009) founded Helping Hands for the Homeless of Rockland County in 2004 after a series of collaborative efforts and help from Roy (who also named it).

Executive Director Ya'el Williams, state Senator David Carlucci, President Raoul Cansino, state Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee
Executive Director Ya’el Williams, state Senator David Carlucci, President Raoul Cansino, state Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee

He has been been advocating for the county’s homeless for more than a decade; Executive Director Ya’el Williams Sr. joined the organization for two and one-half years ago.

“Most people think homeless are addicts or alcoholics, and that’s not the case,” Williams said, proud that during the past five months Helping Hands house 18 guests and helped 36 people find employment. “Sixty-five percent of our guests have vehicles and cannot afford the rent in Rockland.”

Support for its Safe Haven Program increased to nearly 30 communities of faith and hundreds of volunteers since the first night, January 20, 2005, in the Saidiyyah Qadiriyyah (Felicity) Mosque in Spring Valley.

About 300 people per month pass through Helping Hands, housed inside the United Church of Spring Valley. Save Havens offers food and shelter for single homeless individuals 180 nights per year, from November 1 to April 30.

Volunteers, donations and contributions fill the gap between the county’s $23,015 annual allotment and increasing costs. Comprehensive case management and help with health issues and has a computer lab for job-hunting are offered at the Outreach Center.

“We pick them up, screen and process them, and taken them to 27 houses of worship that are in-network,” Williams said. “Last year we provided for 4,612 homeless individuals in the county.”

His goal in the past two years was to leave a footprint and put out there what Helping Hands does in the county. “Now it’s to grow the organization to the point it can help people on all levels,” he said.

For information call 845-356-0100 or email info@helpinghandsofrockland.org.

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