Montgomery County

Amsterdam homeless shelter to be open year-round

With winter approaching, a new homeless shelter set to open its doors Nov. 5 will provide city resid

With winter approaching, a new homeless shelter set to open its doors Nov. 5 will provide city residents in transition with a warm place to look for employment and permanent housing.

“The plan is to get people in tough situations back on their feet,” was shelter supervisor Omar Serrano’s simple mission statement.

The Albany-based Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless paid roughly $85,000 for the three-story apartment building at 218 E. Main St. last month, converting the first floor into emergency housing capable of serving eight to 10 people over the colder months.

The upper two floors are divided into low-income family apartments, which will generate some revenue and keep the place running year-round.

“This shelter is a great development for us,” said Montgomery County Social Services Commissioner Mike McMahon, “There has been a huge increase in homelessness in the area.”

The county agency will screen those who want to enter the shelter, asking if they have any other place to stay and getting an idea of how best they can be helped. Both singles and families can be accommodated.

“People stay on a week-by-week basis,” Serrano said.

During that time, he and other staff and volunteers will help the displaced residents write resumes, get in touch with employers and find inexpensive housing.

The East Main Street shelter comes in response to a growing need, according to McMahon. For years, county DSS received few enough calls for housing assistance that they could put homeless people up in local hotels for a week at a time.

In 2010, it opened a storefront to handle the increased need caused by the recession. Last year, it rented a full building not far from the new shelter to get the homeless population through the winter. In just a few months, the temporary shelter served 70 to 80 people, according to McMahon.

“We didn’t know how much of a need there really was,” he said. “People are sleeping in cars and abandoned buildings down by the river.”

Demand slackened as the weather improved, and the shelter closed over the summer. This revealed a flaw in the temporary system, as McMahon and the social services team had to move all their furniture into storage for a few months.

The new shelter will stay open all year, with the emergency housing converted to longer-term transitional housing over the summer.

The Interfaith Partnership, Montgomery County DSS and the Amsterdam Homeless Committee worked together to get the program up and running. The Amsterdam Rotary Club, St. Mary’s Healthcare, Catholic Charities, the Home Depot and a few other organizations donated funds.

“We are fortunate to be working with such supportive neighbors [who] recognize the need and make generous contributions of time and financial support to keep efforts going,” Interfaith Partnership Executive Director Janine Robitaille said in a news release.

In the next few months, the shelter will hold several as yet unscheduled fundraisers.

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