The Hidden Homeless and Hungry in Rockland County.

There were thirst and hunger and you were the fruit; there were grief and the ruins and you were the miracle.
Pablo Neruda

In January of 2016 Gov. Cuomo signed a mandate stating that during cold weather months everyone must be given clean, warm and safe shelter. In actuality it is a controversial mandate to forcibly move those who appear homeless to shelters or warming centers, one even Mayor De Blasio, with his championing of homeless solutions, refused to comply with. Until this month Rockland County has been shelterless for our general homeless population. After years of pressure from local organizations and the Governor’s mandate, the County has offered up Building D in Pomona as a warming center between November and April for overnight stays. When temperatures are below 32° the center will remain open a full twenty-four hours.

This step toward concern and compliance by the County has been a long time coming for the organization Helping Hands of Rockland, dedicated to supporting and uplifting the homeless by helping them “find alternatives to life on the streets.” In 2004 Helping Hands homeless community support came to fruition after Green Meadow Waldorf teacher, Raoul Cansino attended a community meeting to discuss how best to help our homeless population and, along with his students, created the first homeless "run*, bringing blankets, coats, toiletries and clothing to the streets where homeless were living. By 2005 local places of worship were opening their houses for overnight respite and a hot meal, becoming the first Helping Hands ‘Safe Haven.’ The Safe Haven program grew to include thirty-four institutions throughout Rockland offering stays and hot meals every evening from Nov.1 — April 3. In 2009 Helping Hands opened its outreach center in Spring Valley.

Over the 2016 winter season places of worship and volunteers aided 195 guests. This number of people taking shelter with Safe Haven reflects only a portion of the homeless, according to Helping Hands case worker Jenny Gonzales. Every January Helping Hands does a point and count for HUD, enlisting help from the homeless who utilize the Helping Hands programs. They hit the streets of Rockland for twenty-four hours and literally "point and count." Though not a thorough method, it brings awareness to where the homeless are living and offers a general head count, which is always more than we think, as Jenny pointed out. “The homeless community can be anybody, they look just like us, you can walk past them in Nyack and never know they have no home.” Rockland’s new warming center will be run by Helping Hands, and appropriately called, Safe Haven.

The homeless can have full time jobs and families, some are underemployed or paid low wages, most cannot afford the high cost of Rockland rents, and many are falling through the safety net for mental illness. Poverty, homelessness and hunger, often going hand in hand, are on the rise. One out of seven people in Rockland live below poverty level ($24,600 for a family of four). One out of five people in New York State are considered food insecure. Rockland County has over 50 food banks and soup kitchens and county funding has been decreasing annually for all of these agencies, even as the need has increased by 25% over the past two years.

Helping Hands outreach center is just one, serving breakfast daily while creating a caring community of volunteers eager to offer support for struggling neighbors.

Feel Like Volunteering or Donating?
Closer to home, there are more than six ‘feeding centers’ in Nyack alone, which have organized so a meal can be had by anyone in need every day of the week. Here is a local list:

Sunday Supper at Living Christ Church, 5-6pm, 845-358-3125

Monday, Wednesday, Thursday
Soup Angels at First Reformed Church of Nyack, 5:30-6:30pm.

Lunch and food pantry at Berea Seventh Day Adventist Church, 10:30-12:30, 845-268-2706

Thursday Breakfast
Grace’s Kitchen, breakfast 7:00-8:30 am at Grace Episcopal Church, 845-358-1297

Lunch at Pilgrim Baptist Church,11-1, 845-358-3978

Food pantry at St Anns Church, 9:00-10:3, 845-358-4707

To Volunteer or Donate with Helping Hands;

Warm coats, clothing, new undergarments and toiletries are in serious need. Please contact Tamika at if you have some to donate.