By Rockland County Executive Ed Day
Thanksgiving is almost here and we can rejoice this year knowing that all in Rockland County can have a roof over their head and a warm place to sleep as winter sets in.
Our new Warming Center just opened at the Dr. Robert L. Yeager Health Center in Pomona.
It’s a place where people can spend the night in safety, get a hot meal, take a shower and even do laundry. Even more importantly, they can also meet with caseworkers at the Department of Social Service and get the help they need.
Rockland’s economy is humming, with a record low unemployment rate and plenty of jobs.
But I know from my years in law enforcement that there are just some people who are left out of the general prosperity around them. Often, their lives are complicated by the twin scourges of mental illness and drug or alcohol addiction.
We can bring the full complement of community services to help them. But when it’s freezing outside, all of their other needs take a back seat to securing a safe place to stay.
Our Warming Center is a project years in the making and I am so proud that it has finally become a reality.
True to my promise to reinvent County government, we created this new service in a smart, efficient, effective way.
The Warming Center is a true public-private partnership between the County and Helping Hands, a nonprofit organization that has long helped shelter the homeless.
Helping Hands has years of experience in Rockland County locating people without a steady home and taking them for overnight stays in a network of churches and synagogues.
Rockland County has run a shelter for women, children and families for many years and will continue to do so. But we had an obvious weak spot in our system when it came to providing a temporary, overnight place for people to stay in the cold weather.
We turned to Helping Hands to run the Warming Center. It took great teamwork between Helping Hands and the County departments of Social Services, Facilities and Mental Health to make it happen.
They worked together to create a safe and secure center in space that had formerly been used for an inpatient program run by the Department of Mental Health. The space can accommodate up to 100 beds. It contains a kitchen, shower, laundry room, kitchens and other services. There is fulltime security.
During its first weekend in operation, nearly 50 people took advantage of the center.
People – guests as we call them – are brought to the center in the evening from three pickup points, one each in Spring Valley, Haverstraw and Nyack. In the morning, guests are either brought back to the community or to an outreach center run by Helping Hands.
Interestingly, several people were transported to the center either by police or by a hospital.
That means that someone who might have spent the night in an emergency room or a jail cell just because he or she had no other place to go now has other options.
Just think about the ripple effect on other services in our County. Maybe you or your loved one will be seen sooner in the ER because staff members are not busy with someone who does not need treatment. Law enforcement resources can be used to fight crime instead of keeping track of person who needs shelter.
The biggest benefit of this new service will be experienced by the people who need help the most. As I have said many times, even one person in Rockland County without a home is one too many – especially this time of year.
Rockland is a compassionate place and now we have a better way to help those who need it the most.