NYC’s homeless look for shelter, safety as temperatures continue to drop

NYC’s homeless look for shelter, safety as temperatures continue to drop

The city’s HOME-STAT program successfully moved over 800 people off the street in 2017.

Coalition for the Homeless staff and volunteers offer food and clothing items to those in need near Chinatown on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018.
Coalition for the Homeless staff and volunteers offer food and clothing items to those in need near Chinatown on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018. Photo Credit: Getty Images North America / Eduardo Munoz Alvarez

Finding a warm place to stay during the bitter cold and snow is a challenge for Success, a 42-year-old homeless woman living on the streets in Manhattan.

“If I could come up with $2.75, I would ride the train for the heat,” she said Wednesday night.

But like many of the city’s street homeless, she believes going to a shelter is not a good option.

Outreach teams and volunteers have ramped up efforts to help the city’s street homeless in recent days as the mercury plunges to dangerous lows and the boroughs are coated in snow.

“For the most part, people who live on the street are very aware of what it takes to survive and they will seek out a warmer place,” said Giselle Routhier, policy director at the nonprofit Coalition for the Homeless, which provides services including mobile outreach and food to homeless New Yorkers. “However, you can get injured very quickly in weather like this, which is why it is critical for outreach to make frequent checks on people and assist in any way possible to bring folks inside.”

The city’s HOME-STAT program sends social workers and outreach teams to connect with street homeless people across the boroughs every day in an effort to get them to accept services and go to shelters and safe havens. They successfully moved more than 800 people off the street in 2017 and officials said they are doing a better job of forming relationships.

On Thursday, Al Williams, a leader with the advocacy group Picture the Homeless, helped serve more than 300 meals to people who trekked to Church of the Holy Apostles in Chelsea in the storm.

“People are still reluctant to go into shelters, we try to convince them to just get out of the cold,” said Williams, who lives in a shelter and volunteers with the group which was started by homeless people. “It doesn’t have to be a permanent thing.”

Nikita Price, civil rights organizer with the group, said the city should set up tables at Holy Apostle and other soup kitchens to better connect with the homeless.

“You don’t need to run around on the street and find homeless people, they are right here every day,” said Price. “Start screening them and offer them something tangible. They need to think bigger picture.”

Volunteers with Coalition for the Homeless caught up with Success under the FDR Drive at 35th Street Wednesday. Success, a nickname she asked to use instead of her real name, said she found most shelters dirty places where she felt uncomfortable and unsafe.

Mike Vander Putten, 46, a city school teacher and volunteer driver with Coalition for the Homeless, gave Success extra soup and convinced her to go to nearby Bellevue Hospital where she could at least shower and stay warm for the night.

“I just really love them,” she said of the volunteers.

Vander Putten, Patricia Bergstrom and Vince Fiore spend their Wednesday nights traveling a southern path through Manhattan to distribute food and clothes. Lines form wherever the van stops with people who are homeless or in need of a meal.

With a storm on the way, the team handed out bags with soup, fruit, bread and milk. There were many familiar faces who lit up at the sight of the team.

At a stop by the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, Bergstrom, 52, a city school teacher, noticed a man on line was wearing just layers of sweatshirts. She had him try on several coats until he found one that fit.

“If this doesn’t work, I’ll try to find another one and bring it next time,” she promised.

At one of their last stops of the night, the team gingerly approached a man and woman huddled under mounds of blankets on a sidewalk near Madison Square Garden. They happily accepted the hearty hot soup filled with turkey and noodles but insisted they don’t need to go to a shelter.

“God will take care of us,” the man said.

Lisa L. Colangelo