Homeless people, joined by advocates, spoke out Tuesday at a rally in Poughkeepsie, decrying the new $10 per night fee being imposed by a local emergency homeless shelter. Community Voices Heard organized the event, calling attention to the plight of indigent residents who are being forced to sleep on the streets this upcoming winter.
The expected housing crisis is prompted by a 120-night-per-year limit announced by Hudson River Housing, operator of the Dutchess County Coalition for Homeless shelter.
The first wave of homeless people is being put out this week. Larger numbers have been camping out all season to reserve their shelter opportunities later on. Shortages are expected as frost heightens demand.
Visitors to the shelter were informed this summer of the new rules, which will require ongoing guests to sleep elsewhere once their quota of nightly accommodations expires – and cold winter weather descends.
For many, the only option will be outdoor nooks and crannies along the inner city arterial.
After dusk fell upon Poughkeepsie, almost a dozen men and women were huddled inside the steps of the First Baptist Church on Mill Street, beneath the shadows of downtown's Civic Center and Grand Hotel.
The people came from various backgrounds – some addicts, others down on their luck, or stricken by illness. A broken safety net has left these individuals alone to fend for survival along the curb.
“I'm scared to death,” said Debbie Williams. Homeless since last March, Williams wore out her 120-night-per-year maximum welcome at the DCCH facility, and doesn't know where she would be sleeping later.
Once the calendar year resets in January, people may return to the shelter, but only for four more months.
“What happens when you throw a puppy out in the street in the middle of winter,” exclaimed another person. “You go to jail!”
“Animals are being treated better than us in the cold weather,” agreed Williams.
“When you start pushing people out to the streets, now you're dealing with a whole other ball game,” warned former addict Michael Aiken. “Now you've got people running around, with nowhere to go. That accumulates more crime. The citizens Poughkeepsie will also be affected.”
CVH volunteer Blair Goodman circulated a petition urging the shelter to suspend its policy, until a more humane funding solution could be developed. Goodman cited recent Census data to estimate at least 400 homeless are wandering Poughkeepsie's alleys, doorways and abandoned buildings during any given night.
DCCH shelter accommodates 60 beds, and turns away an average of 15 additional people each day, the activists said.