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The story of a homeless shelter (part 2)

In the second chapter of this story, we talk to two people who are involved directly with the operation of the Danielle’s House homeless shelter in Amsterdam. Read part one of the story here.

Tyler Rush, Supervisor at Danielle’s House

tyler_rushCompass: How long has this shelter been in existence?

Rush: This is the sixth year of a shelter in Amsterdam. I believe 2009 was their first year. What happened was, the first year they had rented a space in a storefront, down on East Main St. I want to say they were only open for about six weeks, and they served about twenty people. They kind of got an idea that there was a need out there, and the next year they rented out another space…

Compass: What are some of the services you offer residents?

Rush: The biggest one would be case management. That’s just following up with them first thing in the morning, giving them direction, keeping them motivated, helping them search through the classifieds, getting landlord numbers to call, helping them schedule doctor’s appointments. That’s primarily the biggest thing we do here. In the shelter we have laundry services, we have a washer and dryer that they are free to use. We have a long distance phone that the residents may use to call on apartments or jobs. We do life-skills programs where different agencies come down and teach skill building courses. We had NBT come down did a budgeting presentation. The Mental Health Association came down and did a stress management presentation. We do stuff like that.

Compass: Do you see better improvement with people who receive case management compared to those who don’t?

Rush: Yes. Because if we weren’t here, people would still be homeless, DSS would just be putting people up in motels, and the downside to that is that people would be stuck there by themselves with nobody to help them do what they are supposed to, to make sure they are looking for apartments, to help them look for jobs. They may have questions with nobody there to answer. They may be stuck. They may need guidance. When I am here I have various contacts throughout the county, so I have all these contacts for people who want to rent rooms out, and I am here to identify those people [in need].

Compass: What happens when someone comes to you for help?

Rush: Everybody who comes here has to come through DSS. So, if somebody were to show up homeless, right now, I would either send them on the bus down to Fonda or I would contact the DSS on-call worker and get them there the following day. They have a screening process that involves answering a few questions to determine their income and if they are eligible for DSS help. The only people we don’t take are sex offenders, just because we have kids sometimes. So, we serve men, women, children sometimes.

Compass: How is the shelter funded?

Rush: This year is the first year we have gotten a contract from both [Montgomery County] and [the City of Amsterdam]. The county gave us $30,600 and I believe the city gave us $15,000.

Some of the funding comes from grants that the team out in Albany writes, so a portion of the money they receive comes to us and we are allowed to fund raise the rest. DSS does pay, per night, for the bed here. So, if DSS approves the eligibility of a person, they call for assistance, DSS pays $50.00 a night for the bed. And the rest is from donations. I don’t have a budget here, so anything such as blankets, laundry soap, dish soap, all comes in through donations.

Compass: How much to you receive in donations?

Rush: Such as monetary donations? The amount we determined that we need to fund-raise for is about $25,000. That’s our goal for this year.

Compass: How many people have you served since opening Danielle’s House?

Rush: I don’t know that, but last year we served 78 people over six months. The shelter is only open from November to the end of April-beginning of May. So, there is a window of six months that we are open. This year it is right around thirty or forty people. So far we are just blowing last year’s numbers out of the water, it seems like. The first month we were open [this year] we served 23 people, so, the problem is there and it’s getting worse. Not only in this community but all over the US, I think we are realizing that homelessness is pretty prevalent.

Compass: Why do you think more people don’t see it?

Rush: Maybe because we don’t have people sleeping on benches. But some homeless have been evicted from their apartments, some have been sharing a house with a friend or family member and had a falling out and were kicked out of that house. We don’t really see too many people coming straight off the street, or people sleeping in laundromats. When I first started last year I wanted to determine the need, because when I applied for the job of Supervisor, I didn’t even know that there was a homeless shelter in Amsterdam. So, I kind of wanted to get an idea of what is was like out there, so for my first six months I just picked a section of the city and checked some of the abandoned buildings to see if there was any activity in there. What I would do is bring around care packages to the backs of the buildings and drop them there, where I saw activity, to let them know someone was out there. I thought that maybe these people didn’t know that there was somewhere to go.

Compass: In what other locations does IPH operate shelters?

Rush: Only here in Amsterdam and in Albany. In Albany they have the shelter, which is the biggest co-ed shelter in Albany. They have the “drop in” center where there are laundry facilities; they have a wall of mail boxes, so if you are homeless you can still receive mail. Interfaith, this year, opened a Code Blue shelter and a transitional housing program where they have case managers to follow up with residents.

I have a lot of pride working for them, knowing what they do out there. They didn’t have to start this shelter. They could’ve said “This is not our problem.” But that’s not what they said. They saw the problem and they wanted to do all they could to help. They bought this house. They really have gone above and beyond what is expected of them, so I get a great amount of pride in working here, seeing all they do out there. They are innovative and always coming up with new ideas and different ways to tackle the issues that come up.

Compass: What’s next for the shelter?

Rush: We’re still trying to cement down our funding. We rely a lot on donations and there’s not a lot of money in this community to go around. We’re still new to the table and a lot of donors, who do have money to give sometimes give to Catholic Charities or give to the hospital. So we’re new to the table and we are trying to find our spot. We feel that as we go year after year and generate more awareness that we are here, about the things that we do and the services we provide, we are hoping to cement our budget so we can expand and help more people. What we are seeing this year is that we have been at capacity since we opened up, and in terms of my view, my hopes for the future is a bigger building, with more beds to serve more people.

Janine Robitaille, Executive Director, Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless

Compass: Was there a chance, over the course of last fall that Danielle’s house was not going to re-open?

Robitaille: Yes, it was looking that way. We had no solid funding in place and the funding we had in prior years just sort of ran out. We were in a real scare during August-September.

Compass: Were you dependent on the county money for re-opening?

Robitaille: Sure. We asked the county and the city to help us so we could re-open, and they were really kind and agreed that they would help us.

Compass: Can you tell me the operating budget for Danielle’s House for this season?

Robitaille: It’s approximately $100,000.

Compass: For a six month season?

Robitaille: Right. That’s an approximate from off the top of my head.

Compass: Do you do any kind of programs during the summer?

Robitaille: We rent out the rooms to people who can’t afford apartments; who just really need a place that is within their budget, to people who just maybe need a little extra support. So we rent out the rooms, always, on the second and third floors, and on the first floor, where the shelter is, we rent those rooms out to people who need transitional housing. For instance, someone who has a job who just needs a couple of months with a reasonable rent to pay so they can save money to get another apartment.

Compass: Tyler commented in our interview that IPH bought the building that houses the shelter. Was that a logical next step?

Robitaille: Yes, it was. In order for the shelter to be successful people needed to know where we were, so that people who needed shelter weren’t wondering where we were located each year. So, we thought that it gave us some roots and helped for stability purposes. I think, also, it showed our commitment to the community.

Compass: What’s next for Danielle’s House and IPH in general?

Robitaille: What’s next for Danielle’s House is to continue to secure funding, because if we don’t have a solid foundation for what we are currently doing, you can’t do anything else. So, the next step is to insure that next year the budgets are safe as well, and the hope is, in time, that we, hopefully, purchase more buildings to provide permanent supported housing for those who need it. I would like to provide some sort of housing that people can afford and some support. I don’t think it’s going to happen next year but maybe in five years. I think there’s a real lack of affordable housing in Amsterdam, that’s a decent place for people to live, and I think that some people need some support in order to sustain an apartment. That’s kind of what we’re all about. We just believe that people need an opportunity to help them do better in life. We’re here to provide that opportunity.

According to Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless’ website, monetary donations can be made to Danielle’s House via the Regional Foodbank of Northeastern NY. The account number for Danielle’s house is 1698E. Specify this code when sending a donation via phone at (518) 786-3691 x227, online at https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/1415634. Or by sending a check to:

Regional Food Bank of NENY
965 Albany Shaker Road
Latham, NY 12110

Or click here to donate directly to IPH. For more information about IPH and how to get involved, visit their website at www.interfaithpartnership.com

(Photo of Tyler Rush by Jay Towne, photo of Danielle’s House by Dan Weaver)

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About Jay Towne

Jay Towne is a resident of Amsterdam, has published six books and is the writer and director of a radio drama, Any Good Thing, that currently airs on WOPG.

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