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Warming Centers Protect Homeless as Temperatures Plummet

Posted on February 26, 2019 by Alice Kenny  |  Share

Catholic Charities NY Opens New Centers in Ulster & Rockland Counties

As 25-mile-per-hour winds drag arctic air into the region plunging temperatures into the teens, men and women, homeless and desperate, gather inside Catholic Charities’ new warming center in Kingston playing cards, reading books and watching their favorite TV shows. Scents from warming lasagna and fresh coffee fill the air.  

“The men and women who come are already in a challenging situation,” says Dominque Wallace-Mills who runs the warming center that Catholic Charities of Orange, Sullivan and Ulster Ulster (counties) took over at the AME Zion Church in Kingston just before last Thanksgiving. “We show them empathy, that we’re not here to judge but to instead provide them with a safe haven.”

Many suffer from mental health issues such as addiction and severe depression.  Some bounced between shelters and jails.  And for nearly all, it has been a long time since a family member put an arm around their shoulders, let alone took them in.

So Catholic Charities, with help from volunteers and neighboring churches of all faiths, turns the lower level of this 19th-century church into a temporary home. Donated quilts convert cots into beds.  Donated cakes, cookies and pies turn handouts into gifts made by hand. 

A case manager mingles with “guests,” as those staying at the warming center are called, offering Catholic Charities’ plethora of free social services.  One of the guests helped for months by a Catholic Charities case manager is just days away from signing his name on a lease that will change him from homeless to housed.  But, staff make clear, those needing a place to stay are welcome whether or not they enroll in services.

“Respect goes a long way,” Ms. Wallace-Mills says.

Catholic Charities new Kingston warming center stands among dozens of warming centers throughout the New York metropolitan area open every day temperatures dip below freezing.  Catholic Charities of Rockland County also took over a 75-bed warming center at the Robert L. Yeager Health Center in Pomona, NY.  Similar to the Kingston location, these warming centers are staffed by motivated to helping those in need.  Flexibility is another requirement for these weather-dependent jobs. Centers remain open during the day when the temperature, including wind chill, is 32 degrees or colder.

“The warming center is an extension of the type of charity we do, helping those disenfranchised, homeless, the most vulnerable,” Ms. Wallace-Mills says. “That’s who I am; that’s who we are as an agency.”