The temperature reads 86° but it feels like 91 as Friday rush hour traffic roars in both directions on route 9W in Newburgh. Standing near the side railings at a busy intersection are two men, approaching oncoming traffic with signs that read, “Need food and water. Please Help.”
Eddie, an older African-American man with missing front teeth, and Chez, twenty years younger than Eddie with a frailer figure, stand here for about an hour a day. Both stay hydrated with water, utilizing the shade of the nearby woods and the turnpike underpass. The money that is donated to them by the passing drivers pay for meals at the local Burger King.
These two reside just miles outside of Poughkeepsie, but their situation is a reality of almost 1,500 other homeless individuals in the Hudson Valley area, a problem that is made even more complicated by extreme weather conditions.
According to the U.S. climate database, the average high temperature in Poughkeepsie through summer is about 82°, while in winter it falls within the range of 35-38°. Those numbers don’t even account for the dozens of inches of rainfall and snowfall per year as well.
“We were fortunate to have a milder winter last year,” says Dr. Daria Hanssen, director of Marist College’s social work program. “But this summer was hot and this winter is projected to be much colder.”
Such unpredictable weather conditions present a unique challenge for the social work organizations of the area, primarily the sheltering programs run by the non-profit private organization Hudson River Housing.
Led by director of Resident Services Linda Malave, HRH provides emergency and non-emergency housing for homeless youth, adults, and families. These shelters offer a variety of essentials to these groups, working hard to provide transportation, church-donated meals, showers, and assigned beds overnight for these guests. Other programs exist as longer terms solutions, as Barbara Vitale and her team of counselors work in conjunction with the local government to provide, “help for substance abuse and a variety of other social services”.
The organization’s main emergency facility is Webster House, leased to Hudson River Housing by the government in 1992. From 7 PM-7AM every day of the year, the home provides solace for at least 60 homeless adults and has the capability for overflow in drastic situations.
In those moments of extreme weather, the over 100 members of the Webster House staff have founds ways to combat the danger. Malave in particular remembers two instances, one last August where emergency transportation was provided during a danger lightning storm in a Poughkeepsie park, and another where some of the guests helped clear out flooding that would have damaged the building.
“There’s the ‘person on the bench’ misconception about the homeless that is important to understand, ” says Malave. “The same people who everyone is afraid of stepped up to the plate that night.”
Despite the benefits of the Webster House, Malave continues to look into expansion for HRH, in particular more housing opportunities in the area that will continue to improve circumstances.
If you are interested in volunteering with Hudson River Housing, contact Lindsey Duvall at 454-5176 for more information.