This has been a tumultuous year for us, in both highs and lows. The very real high point is the fact that the County’s Warming Center ran through the opening months of 2018, until April 30, and then re-opened on November 1 for the winter months. For fourteen years Helping Hands, through its network of Safe Havens and with the selfless efforts of its volunteers, provided a hot meal and shelter through the bitterest time of the year to those who had nowhere else to go. The commitment of time and effort by those people who created Helping Hands was nothing short of heroic. That the homeless people in Rockland County now have a reliable, and likely permanent place to go to for warmth, food and shelter in the worst of weather is due in no small part to those efforts, for they brought the issue out of the shadows and forced our political leaders to recognize it as a very real social problem. The Center is now an established service provided by Rockland County and for this we are thankful.
I’ve spoken before of our “low points” for the year. The major of those were the loss of Raoul Cansino to California’s siren call and the departure of our former Executive Director, both in the summer. We did not know that worse was to come, but come it did in early November when a fire destroyed our laundry, lavatories and showers in the Outreach Center at Spring Valley. In one blow we lost our ability to provide homeless people with the ability to be clean, something we all take for granted. The fire was not in itself large, and no-one was injured, but the location was a cruel choice of fate. It resulted in the closure of the Outreach Center and even our Breakfast Program was canceled for several days until we could get electric power, and gas supplies restored. Thankfully, our staff was able to protect our frozen food supplies and very little had to be discarded, but the folks who rely on the program for their major meal of the day went hungry for that time. That program is back up and running normally, and just the other day insurance adjustors and Fire Inspectors “released” the fire damaged parts of our leased premises back to our care. But there is, as yet no power in that section and the damaged equipment cannot be replaced until we get the insurance settlement. Also, the damage to the building itself has to be repaired so it will be some time until we can once again provide hygiene services. In addition, the computer center remains closed as, of course, there is still no power in that area. Our guests make use of this center to write resumes, research job opportunities, seek available housing etc. and so this is, to say the least, a major inconvenience.
So, where does this leave Helping Hands? Our Case Manager continues to help our guests with their needs and gives guidance through what often seems like the maze of forms and paperwork needed to secure benefits and we still work with tenants and landlords in our housing program, known as Rapid Rehousing.. Our clothing “store” is still open – remarkably it was not affected by the fire – and of course the Breakfast Program is providing a hot meal each weekday morning. I should mention that each morning, because the Warming Center’s current transport schedule does not coincide with the times for breakfast, we send a bus to the Center to bring those who want to have a breakfast with us.
I cannot hide the fact that this 2018 has not been a banner year for Helping Hands. Not quite an “annus horribilis”, but one that has tested us quite severely. Our principal aim at our founding, to provide shelter for the homeless, has been achieved with the creation of the County’s Warming Center. While we can regard the creation of that Center as success, we cannot but think that the fact it remains necessary, with ever increasing numbers of guests, means that our efforts are more needed than ever and we have to consider what else needs to be done to alleviate the problem.
I wish, particularly at this time of year, that I were able to send you a message of good news. But I can’t. I am able, however, to tell you that whatever help we have been able to provide our guests, the homeless folk of Rockland County, it has been made possible by your kindness and by your generosity of spirit, of labor and of treasure. Do not doubt for one minute that you have saved lives, restored hope and returned dignity to many whose existence has been turned upside down, often through no fault of their own. We really do hope, and ask, that you will continue to support us; our financial obligations are almost entirely met through your donations as government grants are only a small percentage of our resources. With your continuing support Helping Hands will continue to work towards its goal of ending homelessness in Rockland County.