By Francesca Norsen Tate, Religion Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Brooklyn Heights Synagogue’s homeless shelter, which has served women for many years, will instead host men starting on Monday.
Volunteers learned last week that the shelter would begin welcoming men instead. An announcement was visible on the shelter's website this weekend.
The shelter’s volunteer coordinators said the switch was the result of the imminent closing of one of the city's men’s shelters, and the need to maximize use of the shelter space at the Remsen Street synangogue, where a shelter's been in operation for nearly 30 years.
The Brooklyn Heights Synagogue shelter has 10 beds, but only two or three women from CAMBA drop-in centers were being brought to this shelter on many nights, coordinators Anne Landman and Andrea Feller told the Brooklyn Eagle.
CAMBA is an umbrella social services agency that works largely in Brooklyn, with dozens of locations around the borough, according to its website. Each year, the agency serves more than 45,000 individuals and families, including 8,000 youth, uniting them with organizations and resources that can help them with housing, finding employment, starting a business or health issues.
“The driving force for this change was a situation where a shelter for men that had 23 beds was slated to close at the end of January. CAMBA asked if BHS could switch to serving men. This was in response to our question: ‘What can we do to fill our beds?’ CAMBA did find another shelter in Manhattan for single women who were being served at the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue until now," Landman said. She pointed out that the Brooklyn Heights shelter originally served men, and a similar situation many years ago brought about the switch to women guests.
The NYC Department of Homeless Services and the Coalition for the Homeless report that more than 48,000 people are being housed in municipal shelters. The numbers of homeless single adults were counted as 7,728 men and 2,740 women. Drop-in centers served 573 single clients; overnight drop-in centers served 174, and faith-based centers (like the one hosted by the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue) served 271.
CAMBA pre-screens all guests. People sent to faith-based volunteer shelters are not expected to have issues that require trained social workers to be on hand. All guests delegated to the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue are single, because the synagogue cannot meet the space requirements that each family be given a separate units.
BHS coordinators Landman has volunteered with the synagogue shelter throughout the its 29 years of operation; this is her first year as overall coordinator, having previously served as evening coordinator. This is Feller's fourth year as Shelter Overall coordinator; she has volunteered at BHS in different ways for many years, starting with cooking, beginning about 15 years ago when her children were small.
“A lot of the shelter guests have jobs; they work but they don’t earn enough money for their own housing," Landman explains.
The Brooklyn Heights Synagogue shelter operates from November through April, on Monday through Thursday nights, and is closed during the weeks of Passover and Easter, which typically coincide.
The shelter is entirely volunteer-driven, with volunteers coming both from the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue membership and the larger community.
For example, the Conservative Kane Street Synagogue in Cobble Hill covers a full three-week block, providing cooking and overnight volunteers. Beth Elohim, a reform temple in Park Slope, covers two weeks during February. B'nai Avraham, the Orthodox synagogue in Brooklyn Heights, has also sent volunteers. Schools in the area volunteer through social service projects; they've made cookies and muffins, for example, and unaffiliated individuals have also participated.
“It is definitely a community effort,” says Landman. “One BHS congregant, Sylvia Rosenberg, is an expert baker and makes delicious desserts. She comes in and spends time with the shelter guests regularly." Feller adds that kids who have already become bar mitzvah are welcome to volunteer with their families. “Young families come and serve dinner. The guests love the kids!”
This shelter is unrelated to the Brooklyn Heights Interfaith Homeless Shelter, which has been hosting men. The Interfaith Shelter rotates among participating houses of worship for one month at a time. By contrast, the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue runs an ongoing shelter. Some BHS volunteers help out at both shelters.
Volunteers are always needed, especially overnight chaperones, Landman points out. The Brooklyn Heights Synagogue Shelter’s web page offers several resources for current and prospective volunteers.