What began as a makeshift effort to give the city’s most vulnerable residents someplace to stay on frigid winter nights has evolved into a plan to create “transitional housing” for people struggling to overcome addiction, mental illness and homelessness.
The Clinton Avenue United Methodist Church is home to the Caring Hands Soup Kitchen. In 2014, the church opened the city’s only dedicated overnight warming center to provide emergency shelter to people who would otherwise be on the streets, including many who had been disqualified from social services for untreated addiction issues or failure to comply with program rules. The shelter began as an ad-hoc effort utilizing a few cots and a handful of volunteers. Today the warming center receives funding from Ulster County and has been incorporated into the city’s anti-homelessness infrastructure. Clinton Avenue UMC Pastor the Rev. Darlene Kelley said this week that the proposed transitional housing initiative was a logical next step in the church’s mission.
“It really happened kind of organically because we are working with the homeless at the warming center and the soup kitchen,” said Kelley. “We realized that there are some folks who had fallen through the cracks.”
The church’s plans call for using six newly renovated rooms in an old parsonage building to house 12 men and women. Clients would stay anywhere from a few months to year working to address issues like unemployment, addiction or mental illness before moving on to permanent housing.
“It’s a housing-first model,” said Kelley. “Because if someone is struggling with food or shelter, that takes up so much energy they can’t get to that next step.”
While staying in the transitional housing, clients will have access to church run programs including a regular Narcotics Anonymous group and GED prep classes. The church also partner with local service providers to offer counseling, job placement and other services. Full time staff will cook meals and provide security and housekeeping at the site. Kelley and assistant pastor Jeremy Mills will oversee the program and help coordinate client services.
Michael Berg, executive director of the social services nonprofit Family of Woodstock, said that there was a major need for the kind of supportive transitional housing planned for the church site. Berg said this week that local boarding houses provide shelter for the city’s at-risk population, but few offer the kind of support and advocacy needed to overcome issues that lead to chronic homelessness. Berg said that the church program could provide a critical link between residents and a variety of programs offered by Family and other agencies.
“I know Reverend Kelley and she’s very committed to this population,” said Berg. “I know that she will do everything she can to help people who want to turn their lives around.”
The proposal still needs approval from the city’s planning board which must issue a certificate of occupancy. Mills said that one of the issues the board is weighing is the combined impact of the soup kitchen, emergency shelter and proposed boarding house at times when all three operations are up and running. Board members made a site visit to the parsonage on Wednesday, April 26.