OSSINING, N.Y. -- An Ossining coalition will be providing homeless folks with a safe and warm place to stay overnight and a bite to eat this winter.
Several local interfaith groups partnered last year on a three-week pilot program. This year, the Emergency Shelter Project will run for 10 weeks, and possible longer, said Karen D’Attore, executive director of the Interfaith Council for Action Housing Network, an Ossining-based nonprofit agency.
Like other communities facing challenging times, Ossining is no stranger to homelessness and poverty.
The very low apartment vacancy rate has driven up rents, making it “virtually impossible” for day laborers, low-income, and even middle-income, folks to find housing, D’Attore said.
Families are doubling and tripling up in unsafe housing, and a number of people are sporadically or permanently homeless, particularly among the immigrant community or those suffering from mental illness.
“This is something relatively simple that we can do to help people during the coldest month of the year.” D’Attore said.
The shelter will be open from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., seven days a week. It stays with one of the four current host locations for a week at a time.
Each host provides a space for guests to sleep and one or two volunteers to keep an eye on things. Other volunteers prepare bagged lunches and a light breakfast for the guests.
A paid bilingual manager is responsible for outreach and transporting individuals to and from the shelter.
People needed shelter have to meet in front of the Ossining Open Door, a community health center, on Main Street by 9 p.m. They will be either walked to, or driven to, the shelter.
The shelter program started on Sunday, Dec. 11, and is expected to run through Feb. 20, D’Attore said.
It could run longer if more churches, interfaith organizations or social service groups join up, D’Attore added.
The independently funded and operated project is based on one started in Mount Kisco about 12 years ago after several homeless Westchester men had been found dead of exposure.
Mel Berger, who chaired the Mount Kisco Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention Council, got together with the Rev. Paul Alcorn of the Bedford Presbyterian Church in Bedford Village to develop the Emergency Shelter Partnership.
Churches and organizations participating in last year’s pilot program in Ossining, which helped 12 individuals, included Trinity Episcopal Church, St. Paul’s-on-the-Hill and IFCA Housing Network.
Other congregations, organizations and individuals assisting the program included County Legislator Catherine Borgia, who represents District 9; Scarborough Presbyterian Church, Briarcliff Congregational Church, Temple Israel of Northern Westchester, the Ethical Society of Northern Westchester and the Girl Scouts.
The Church of St. Ann’s and the Star of Bethlehem Baptist Church have now joined the coalition, which is actively reaching out to other congregations.
“It is encouraging that we will now be open for 10 weeks and we hope to make our guest comfortable in our various churches, thanks to the many people who make this possible,” said the Rev. Cooper Conway, priest in charge at Trinity and St. Paul’s in Ossining.
The closest permanent shelter is located in White Plains, D’Attore said. There sometimes is a fear factor, especially for day laborers who may be undocumented, attached to government-sponsored shelters.
Guests of the Ossining shelter project will be asked to give their names, but won’t be asked for ID, D’Attore said.
The program is aimed at helping individuals, but couples will also be accepted. Unfortunately, D’Attore added, it cannot accommodate children.
“Homeless and poverty are a real in Ossining, just because you don’t see it does not mean it is not there, I am so proud of this group of congregations, organizations and residents to who have stepped up to face and address this head on,” said Omar J. Herrera, Ossining’s former deputy mayor.