Ridgewood church to house homeless overnight

The issue of about a dozen homeless people loitering around the Forest Avenue subway station in Ridgewood has prompted a neighborhood church to start housing them overnight.

The Ridgewood Presbyterian Church is negotiating a partnership with a homeless services nonprofit to provide beds for about a dozen homeless people who frequent the area near the Forest Avenue subway station.

According to the Department of Homeless Services, the 59-14 70 Ave. house of worship recently reached out to the agency, looking to expand its existing programs geared toward the neighborhood’s undomiciled population.

While an agreement has yet to be signed between the church and street homeless outreach group Breaking Ground, the two entities are eyeing the placing of about 15 beds within the building.

The homeless individuals, according to the DHS, would only sleep there. A Breaking Ground spokeswoman added that the house of worship will be responsible for staffing the site with a dedicated program director and as many case managers as needed, while the people using the beds will be referred by Breaking Ground outreach teams.

“These beds would enable Breaking Ground to continue bringing this borough’s homeless neighbors in off the streets and working with them to get them back on their feet,” DHS spokesman Isaac McGinn said. “We always welcome houses of worship that want to do more.”

“Around New York City, dozens of faith leaders and houses of worship have stepped up to help the homeless in their communities, and Breaking Ground’s street outreach teams are proud to partner with them,” a Breaking Ground spokesperson said in an email. “Since 1990, Breaking Ground has helped more than 13,000 people escape and avoid homelessness.”

About 50 churches citywide already allow those without a home to spend the night, with McGinn and others specifically noting the Ridgewood site is not a drop-in center for homeless people without referrals.

A source with knowledge of the situation said showers are being installed and that homeless senior citizens in the area, including some who are members of the church, will be prioritized. The source added that there will be two rooms of beds and on-site security staff.

The addition of beds expands on the services provided to homeless people at the church. Free meals are served to them by parish volunteers every Sunday morning and Monday night — an event called “St. Bennie’s Bistro” — in addition to the monthly community meal being offered to anyone in area, homeless or not.

Greater Ridgewood Youth Council students and staff have also spent a handful of days providing food to the homeless at the church.

That effort, according to GRYC Executive Director Bob Monahan, came out of his motivation to address the issue of homeless people gathering outside his group’s new facility at 776 Fairview Ave.

“I can’t go to church on Sunday and then on Monday say I’m going beat up the homeless guys and kick them out,” Monahan said in a Tuesday interview. “They don’t bother anyone. They’re not doing anything bad.”

The GRYC head added that most of the homeless who frequent his location are people of Eastern European descent who speak little to no English, are wary of the shelter system and refuse to leave the neighborhood they feel comfortable in.

“These guys are not going away. They’re never going to a homeless shelter,” he said. “They’re going to leave this neighborhood either when their lives somehow change for the better or they’re going to leave in a box.”

That reality was discussed last month at a meeting called by Monahan and attended by church officials, Breaking Ground, the DHS and the NYPD.

According to the Rev. Mike Lopez — whose church, All Saints Catholic Community, shares the Ridgewood building with the Presbyterian parish — Breaking Ground and the house of worship are looking to place beds at the site this summer.

“It’s certainly part of our mission,” Lopez told the Chronicle on Tuesday.

Also located at the church is the Ridgewood Older Adult Center and a daycare facility for young children.

Because the house of worship would only be utilized hours after the senior and youth facilities close — a source said the undomiciled could only sleep there between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. — neither the city nor Monahan forecast any issues that could arise from the homeless peoples’ presence at the facility.

“There would be no time or program overlap whatsoever,” a DHS official told the Chronicle. “Neither program would have any impact on the other.”

“None of the homeless people have ever been abusive in any way to my parents or my kids. They’ve never bothered anyone,” Monahan said. “If they did, I would feel very different about this.”

The GRYC head added the creation of meal service for the homeless has been a boost for the growth of children enrolled in his programs, something he hopes “to continue at the church going forward.”

“Not only have they learned how to cook,” he said, “they learned what it means to be of service to those who are less fortunate.”

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