Since the Port Jervis warming station opened its door three weeks ago, it has sheltered more than 30 homeless people from cold nights, almost matching the total number served in the first season 10 years ago.
Over the years, it has evolved from a simple overnight shelter to a center with trained staff and volunteers to help those willing to help themselves to get back on their feet.
“It is just amazing how people support this warming center and how much they care,” center coordinator Jack Austin said of the support from all corners since its inception.
When it first started at a storefront location on Fowler Street in Port Jervis in 2013, the rental and utility charges were covered by local attorney Michael Sussman, according to Mr. Austin.
Then, in 2016, the Tri-State Interfaith Council took the station under its wing and moved it to the current location at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church on Main Street, which provided room for future growth.
Around the same time, the Orange County government stepped in with a state grant to cover the center’s main operating costs, and the annual funding has gone up from the initial $40,000 to about $57,000 now.
The stable funding unleashed a new phase of growth at the center, Mr. Austin said, including staff and volunteer training, casework programs, and freeing up donated money for further good uses.
“We can help pay the security deposit when people leave here and rent an apartment,” he told The Epoch Times, adding that the center did just that for a mother and son duo in March.
“Both were employed—but what I would call marginally employed—they were making minimum wages and barely could save any money, and they had been sleeping in their car before they came here last winter,” he said. “But they were able to save little by little, went apartment hunting, and found one.”
Charitable donations that enable the center to provide such additional help come from tri-state area churches, civic organizations, businesses, and a few dozen caring individuals, he said.
“It is hard to remember all the details, but the generosity is very impressive, and our people at the warming center need it,” he said.
A few years ago, a combined donation of nearly $10,000 from Port Jervis Elks and Bon Secours Community Hospital helped install a washer and dryer at the center.
Another donation—also among the most memorable ones for Mr. Austin—came from a former guest who won a legal settlement and helped pay for a new shower system, making the center one of the few in the area with such infrastructure.
Nonmonetary donations include hygiene products, clothes, and hot dinners.
“So, every evening, someone in our community brings hot meals for our guests,” Mr. Austin said. “The guests have a lot of good camaraderie; they will talk with each other over dinner about the things they did during the day, the problems that they have, and how they are trying to solve their problems.”
“It is an opportunity for us to work with them and help them,” he added.
Help the Chronic Homeless PeopleLast year, about 82 guests stayed at the shelter—the highest number in years.
Mr. Austin said that based on his years of observations, most guests are only temporarily without a place to stay, willing to work, and sincerely looking forward to being independent.
Only about a quarter or so, he said, fall into the category of chronic homelessness, usually because of drug and alcohol addictions or severe mental health problems.
“I have a strong passion for not only helping but doing the best we can,” he said. “With the warming center, we helped a lot of people, but we haven’t solved the underlying problems.”
Mr. Austin is working on a new $350,000 year-long program targeted at the chronic homeless with the help of the Tri-State Interfaith Council; funding is yet to be in place.
Warming Centers in Orange CountyMiddletown and Newburgh also have warming centers on Mulberry Street and Newburgh Ministry, respectively, to shelter the homeless from cold nights.
The county’s contracted homeless shelter provider, Helping Others Needing Our Resources (HONOR), is located off Mohagen Avenue in Middletown.
The county received a total of $386,000 in state funding for such shelters this season, according to Orange County Commissioner of Mental Health and Social Services Darcie Miller.
Early this year, the county applied for about $270,000 in state grants for a second warming station in Newburgh but was denied based on a funding shortage.
“We want all our residents to remain safe and warm throughout the winter months,” Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus told The Epoch Times. “We appreciate all the facilities that open their doors to help the less fortunate in our community.”
“The commitment from our community to ensure that our citizens have a warm place to rest is admirable,” Ms. Miller said. “Our partner agencies and faith-based organizations provide after-hours support and help us to meet the needs of our community’s most vulnerable.”