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Houses of worship enlisted as homeless shelters

Several houses of worship will provide sanctuary -- and temporary sleeping space -- to the homeless under a de Blasio administration initiative aimed at helping to reduce the number of people living on New York City streets.

At least 500 beds will be set up in churches, mosques, synagogues and other faith-based facilities through a city-funded partnership between the city Department of Homeless Services and Mayor Bill de Blasio's clergy advisory council as well as other religious leaders.

The Lamb's Church of the Nazarene on the Lower East Side plans to contribute space for 19 beds to the city's Opening Doors initiative. Its pastor, the Rev. Gabriel Salguero, said churches are "natural allies" in aiding the homeless.

"This is our city, and these are our neighbors," he said. "It's really part of our DNA as Christians to advocate for and serve the most vulnerable communities in our city."

About 670 Safe Haven beds already exist in the city. Opening Doors, funded from the $84 million earmarked by de Blasio's office to address street homelessness, is modeled on a similar Bloomberg-era Safe Haven program that enlisted social service groups.

City Homeless Services Commissioner Gilbert Taylor yesterday pitched Opening Doors to religious leaders at the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies offices in lower Manhattan. Each facility would provide 10 to 19 beds, dinner and social services, he said.

"Poverty continues to manifest itself in homelessness more so in New York City than in many other places," Taylor said. "Opening doors goes a long way. . . . This is truly God's work."

The group met as activists planned to march to City Hall last night for a "sleep-out" protesting the lack of housing for homeless New Yorkers.

About 58,000 people are sleeping in city shelters, according to the Coalition of Homeless Services. The number has risen steadily since the city's Advantage rent subsidy program was canceled in 2011.

Street outreach teams will refer homeless individuals to the houses of worship.

A bed for the night may provide only short-term housing, but the bond formed with a house of worship could mean a willingness to accept social services and other help for longer-term relief, said Amanda Hambrick Ashcraft, director of outreach ministries at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church.

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