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Amid brutal cold, Long Island homeless shelters are full

Bobby Bloomfield, 68, had a warm meal at

Bobby Bloomfield, 68, had a warm meal at the First Presbyterian Church of Glen Cove, which houses the North Shore Sheltering Program, on Friday, Jan. 5, 2018. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Bobby Bloomfield, 68, slept in a friend’s car this fall, grateful the weather didn’t turn cold before he could find shelter. On Friday, he was inside that shelter, in a Glen Cove church that hosts two dozen men nightly from late November to April but which opted to open its doors all day long during this brutal cold spell. And he was grateful for that too, he said.

“This is death weather,” said Bloomfield, who lives on disability payments and rents rooms when he can find them. “You’d freeze to death in this weather.”

The shelter, run by the North Shore Sheltering Program in rented space at the First Presbyterian Church, was opened 22 years ago by volunteers in Glen Cove after two homeless men froze to death. It is among a network of spaces for the homeless and needy offering refuge from the cold. While warming centers set up in Nassau County in skating rinks and administration centers reported that few people had sought shelter overnight or during the day, homeless shelters in the county were at capacity.

Some in Suffolk, such as Pax Christi Hospitality Center in Port Jefferson, also were full. However, Traci Barnes, a spokeswoman for the Suffolk Department of Social Services, said her agency could still provide shelter. “If someone were to present themselves, we would help them,” she said.

The North Shore Sheltering Program gets no grants or subsidies and relies on volunteers, said board president Gustavo Gitlin, a cantor at a local synagogue and among the clergy who help lead the organization.

“This is a community effort,” he said. “Every day, people cook and serve, and that’s what this is all about.” He’d stopped in to deliver sandwiches and doughnuts from Dunkin’ Donuts, paid for with contributions, to the dozen or so men who’d remained at the shelter during the day. Mattresses and bags of belongings lay on the floor of the high-ceilinged parish hall, and the men ate at long tables where they chatted and looked at donated iPads as reruns of the old series “Bonanza” played on the television.

When the shelter is closed during daytime hours, Gitlin said the men circled through fast food restaurants, local delis, the train station and library, before lining up outside the shelter in late afternoon.

“I was really thankful they kept this place open,” said Sky Ogle, 39, a seasonal worker who said Glen Cove was the last place he’d lived before ending up on the street, the result, he said, of “poor decisions and no family left.”

“I’ve slept outside before this opened, by the train station in Mineola, in stairwells and park benches,” he said, clutching a fleece blanket around him in indoor air that had a chill to it. He shrugged, “It’s warmer here than out there.”

Carol Waldman, executive director of the Glen Cove Senior Citizens Center, said it was full on Friday with its regulars, although the day before, a younger man had shown up when he lost heat at his home. “The people who come to our center are the people who can get to us,” she said, “but we’re more worried about people who can’t get here. We made over 100 calls yesterday to homebound seniors to make sure they were safe, had something in the house to eat, to make sure they heard a friendly voice.” They took food to three homebound seniors.

She said many elderly people struggle in winter conditions. “There is darkness and the cold — it’s a lethal combo for older people because they become isolated,” she said. “They’re afraid to leave their home — they don’t want to get sick or fall. And with the isolation very often comes anxiety and depression, and in extreme cases suicidal thoughts.”

She said the center’s calls to the homebound tried to reassure them that “there were people in the community here for them if they needed assistance.”

Over at the Glen Cove shelter, Gregory Barr, 63, who said he was a retired boat detailer, cited his many health issues and the difficulty of finding a rental on a $857-a-month disability payment. “I’ve literally slept in my car,” he said, a car he no longer drives because he can’t afford insurance. “It’s nice to be inside.”

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