POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. — Nestled on Mill Street is an antiquated house with new purpose. Hudson River Housing, a local non-profit organization, resides here. This incorporation “improves lives and communities through housing with compassion and development with vision,” according to their website. With the group’s unwavering dedication to bettering the Poughkeepsie area and helping the community reach its full potential through not only housing but also programming, this organization does not receive a fraction of the recognition it deserves for the meaningful work it does.
“Our whole focus is helping people thrive and creating opportunities for people; there is a myriad of ways to do that, but housing is the foundation,” says Elizabeth Druback-Celaya, the Director of Organizational and Community Development. Hudson River Housing, which was established in the early 1980s in an effort to assist the area’s homeless population, is more pertinent than ever, as it incorporates a multi-faceted approach to improving the lives of locals, not only through assistance with housing, but also by helping individuals build a life.
Nora Culhane, a Marist graduate, serves as the Community Development Coordinator. Culhane shares that the organization’s impact is massive, and demonstrated in a multitude of ways. “Basically, we provide a number of different services,” she says. “Rental – affordable rental apartments and housing, transitional, so people who were formerly homeless, we look to help them find affordable housing, we do serve the homeless population with our emergency homeless shelter, and we operate the only emergency homeless shelter in Dutchess County. It has 60 beds, and they’re full every night, 365 days a year. We also do housing development, so we build new places or rework new places. We are always working on a new development project. We also have a number of different programs and services. Some youth services, we operate a youth shelter, [and do] employment assistance training. We try and cover a lot of different facets. Then, community building and engagement which is part of the downtown revitalization efforts.”
The group emphasizes that housing is a vital ingredient to success, and for this reason, invests a tremendous amount of time and resources into ensuring that Poughkeepsie residents in need have a place to live that suits their specific requirements. “We have been a leader in the field of housing for several decades now…the experts in the industry,” Druback-Celaya says. “We believe [that] housing is the cornerstone of a person’s life but also should be considered a basic human right. We believe that everyone has the right to housing and it is really critical for people to pursue any objective…whether that’s work or education…without the stability of having a safe place to call home it is really impossible to think about doing anything else.”
Culhane agrees that housing is more critical to prosperity than initially perceivable. “People need a place to live,” she states. “It all starts with the place you live. You can’t do anything without a roof over your head. It’s hard to hold a job when you don’t know where you’re going to be that night to sleep, [and] it’s hard to raise a family.”
For this reason, the organization has constructed a variety of different types of housing, catered to community members with widely varying needs. “We serve so many people, so many different people,” says Culhane. Druback-Celaya adds that the incorporation works with people with disparate past experiences and helps them find housing that will point them in a direction towards a more enriching, healthy life. “We serve people with severe persistent mental illnesses, folks with chemical addictions, folks who are part of the re-entry population,” she says. “We have a lot of specialized housing that comes with care management that helps connect [these people] with other resources they may need.”
One of the most important aspects of this organization is that it doesn’t just stop at housing; instead, it offers resources to the community, which includes but is not limited to job training.
“We have a job training program running at the [Poughkeepsie] Underwear Factory now,” Druback-Celaya says. “It gives homeless or unemployed people…the opportunity to learn new skills and is a really good example of how we are pulling all the pieces together, holistically.”
The Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory serves a variety of purposes within the organization. It is the cornerstone of the group’s Middle Main Initiative, a project designed to bring new energy to Poughkeepsie’s Main Street corridor. The rehabilitated building was formerly dilapidated and has since been renovated to be a “mixed-use [building], with two thirds consisting of apartments, and one third planned as a commercial community hub,” according to Hudson River Housing’s Middle Main website. “The Underwear Factory is the anchor and feature project of that work,” states Druback-Celaya. The building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is located on N Cherry Street, is a place representative of increasing economic opportunity for the community. “We wanted to find a way to use it as an economic engine and respond to some of the things we were hearing from the community,” she says. “That’s how we develop the programming at the Underwear Factory, taking into account the things we are hearing from the community.”
Culhane echoes the importance of incorporating the opinions of those who call Poughkeepsie home, the locals, in the creation of new programming and development. “We listen to everyone,” she says. “Not just homeowners, we’ve got to listen to renters, we have to listen to immigrants.”
Obtaining the truth about what the community needs is one of the most fundamental differences between Hudson River Housing and other not-for-profit organizations in the local area. “We are important because, I think – and this is a personal opinion – we listen to what the community wants and needs. It is less about us deciding what the need and more about us responding to what we’ve heard and what we’ve been told through outreach. We make very conscious outreach efforts so that we can get the real truth,” Culhane says.
The result of these efforts is reflected by not only the programming created by the group, but the development of the Middle Main Initiative.
“We started that effort…to strengthen and preserve our Main Street Corridor,” says Druback-Celaya. “It was really an asset-focused approach. There is still a tremendous amount of negativity around the city of Poughkeepsie and you see a lot of disinvestment around the city. We felt very strongly there were a tremendous amount of assets in the community, [that it is] a place full of people with hopes and dreams and we want to help them live fulfilling lives.”
This project was produced to foster a more auspicious, positive environment in the Main Street area of the city. “It’s about the energy, about positivity and we adopted this hashtag #Poughtential because we do have potential here in Poughkeepsie,” says Culhane. “It’s so real, and it’s really exciting to see it kind of take-off, especially with first Friday, which is bringing in so much energy. That’s not even through us, that’s through the city.”
The chief goal of these efforts is, according to Culhane, “to create a vibrant corridor right in the center of the city, because main street is the main artery. It runs all the way out from the river to Arlington.”
While great strides have been made, there is still more in the works for Hudson River Housing.
“We’re always coming up with new things,” says Druback-Celaya. “Within [the Middle Main Initiative], we’ve taken this approach to really strengthen a core part of our Main Street that has seen a lot of disinvestment over the decades. One block over we have acquired several vacant lots and are doing new a new housing development.”
Culhne adds, “Development wise, there a couple of new housing options on the horizon…they are going to be right here in the Main Street Corridor.”
This organization is beneficial because of the fact it has favorably impacted so many lives in the local area, and shows no signs of stopping.
“It’s really necessary that we’re here and that we’re doing this work,” says Druback-Celaya.