Blowing snow, plummeting temperatures and no relief in sight until the weekend had Long Island officials and homeless advocates scrambling Wednesday to find shelter for those otherwise forced to withstand the life-threatening elements outside.
“We’re already full,” said Dan O’Shea, executive director of Maureen’s Haven at 28 Lincoln St. in Riverhead, which can house up to 30 adults overnight. He added that more people than usual have been coming into the facility seeking help and housing with forecasters predicting overnight cold in the single digits through early Friday.
“We’re at capacity tonight and we anticipate that for the next couple of days,” O'Shea said.
The cold snap, coming just days after highs on parts of Long Island climbed into the mid-50s, prompted Nassau and Suffolk officials to put out alerts reminding residents they should go to designated warming centers.
“We’re going to have a deep freeze over the next few days,” said Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, in a news release. “Our warming centers will be open for anybody that needs them, as will our 1-866-WARMBED hotline. If you see someone who needs shelter overnight, please call us.”
Similar seesawing temperatures earlier in the month — when the high dropped from the mid-40s to the low teens in the span of less than 24 hours — prompted Glen Cove officials to open a day center for homeless men at First Baptist Church. The day center, located at 7 Continental Place, will remain open three afternoons a week through late March, said Glen Cove Deputy Mayor Maureen Basdavanos, who helped create the program.
“With this colder weather, I’m sure there will be more people looking for some place to go,” Basdavanos said. “I’m so happy we’re able to do this one small thing to be able to help those less fortunate.”
Wednesday night, about 30 men were bedding down in the shelter for the night. They spaced mats a foot and a half apart on the floor of the church's recreation center and then scarfed down plates of hot lasagna and sausages provided by the North Shore Sheltering Program.
Bobby Bloomfield said the church shelter is more than just a place to stay warm. It's a "godsend," was how the 69-year-old homeless man described the shelter.
For the past year and a half, Bloomfield has slept on the church floor when sleeping outside could mean freezing to death.
“I’m grateful for a roof over my head and the warm food," Bloomfield said, "especially when the elements are tough like this. The wind just cuts you right down to the bone."
When the temperatures started falling on their way to subfreezing territory Wednesday, the church shelter opened a bit ahead of schedule, said Steve Fortuna, who helps run the program. It will remain open through late Thursday morning so the men who stayed overnight can go straight to a local soup kitchen and stay indoors, Fortuna said. Thursday's high is expected to hover in the mid-teens. Single-digit cold is forecast for Thursday night.
Fortuna and other volunteers handed out thick socks. One man came in from the cold wearing just pants and a sweatshirt. Volunteers gave him a heavy coat.
- The Winter Homeless Hotline (866-927-6233) is active. The county’s Department of Social Services will make referrals and provide shelter placement.
- Nassau also operates daytime warming centers at Cantiague Park Ice Rink in Hicksville, the Nassau County Aquatic Center in East Meadow, Grant Park in Hewlett and Christopher Morley Park in Roslyn.
- Any homeless person in need of shelter during inclement winter weather can call Suffolk County’s Department of Social Services’ Temporary Housing Assistance Unit at 631-854-9547 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. After 4:30 p.m., on weekends and holidays, call the SCDSS Emergency Services Unit at 631-854-9100.
- Sheltering assistance is also available at the following service centers from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.: 2 South 2nd St., Deer Park; 200 Wireless Blvd., Hauppauge; 80 Middle Country Rd., Coram; and 893 E. Main St., Riverhead.