“We have people out there with no place to go tonight. Straight up, they’re living in a tent in the summer,” said Kathy Krieter, program administrator and director of the Sullivan …
“We have people out there with no place to go tonight. Straight up, they’re living in a tent in the summer,” said Kathy Krieter, program administrator and director of the Sullivan County Federation for the Homeless (SCFH).
She noted that “homeless” is a broad term; there are many faces that fit its description. “Homeless” can include folks “living in limbo”—placed in temporary housing by a department of family services—people fighting the demons of addiction and people suffering from untreated mental illness.
Operating the county’s only soup kitchen is the core of the federation’s mission. It offers free breakfasts, lunches and take-out to a variety of vulnerable folks: the homeless, seniors struggling to pay the bills on fixed incomes and “the working poor, cobbling together two or three part-time jobs at big-box stores,” who live from paycheck to paycheck.
“We never turn anybody away,” said Krieter, noting that the soup kitchen serves an average of 25 to 30 breakfasts every morning and 40 to 50 lunches.
Add in all the take-outs, and it’s about 125 to 140 meals a day.
The kitchen operates under the guidance of cook Mike S., assisted by Ruthlyn, and Jonathan, who volunteers at the federation in several roles.
The other day, before heading out to the serving line, Jonathan shared a bit of his story: The 42-year old resident of the village makes a personal statement on life, as he proudly displays numerous Buddhist-inspired tattoos on his face and arms, including on his forehead, the Buddhist prayer Nam MyohoRengeKyo, which roughly translates into a claim of devoting oneself “to the mystic law of the Lotus Sutra” or “the wonderful dharma of the lotus flower teaching.”
“They remind me of all the things I love in life. It attunes you to the universe,” he said of his tattoos, noting that he came to the federation after being referred there by Aileen Gunther’s office about five years ago. “[Gunther’s office] helped me tremendously with the things I’ve been dealing with, things I was going through, emotional and mental issues… They are all wonderful people.”
The soup kitchen is open Monday through Friday, and in addition, the SCFH operates a clothing corner, a food pantry every other Friday, a veterans’ pantry and provides services for people with HIV/AIDS.
Krieter is no stranger to helping out folks in need, as her family is also involved in lending a hand where it is really needed. Her niece, Barbi Neumann, serves as director of the county’s boys and girls club where Krieter’s other nieces and grandchildren pitch in to help. Her son works for Ulster County Community Action, and “my husband fills in the potholes in the driveway and other things I drag him into.”
Currently, the federation, founded in 1987, has an annual budget of approximately $300,000. But when Krieter came on board eight years ago, it was fighting to stay open as state funding started to dry up, and was on the verge of shutting down the soup kitchen.
Krieter sent a cry for help out, and Assemblywoman Gunther “stepped up and found us a private donor.”
“It’s quite a juggling act… I don’t think the federation lives [much] differently than the people we serve,” she added, noting they no longer have any full-time staff, but depend on four part-timers: herself, program manager Esther “Miss Esther” Tyler, cook Mike S. and pantry stock clerk Angel Rodriguez.
In addition to working at the federation, Krieter spends two nights a week making sure things run smoothly at the Monticello warming center located at the Ted Stroebelle Recreation Center.
“You see people who are older, men and women, pregnant girls… People who are challenged with alcohol abuse, drug abuse, in and out of the criminal justice system… and mental health issues are a huge factor in the homeless problem,” she said of people seeking a place to keep warm during the winter.
The warming center in Monticello operates from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., while a second center is open from 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. at the United Methodist Church, located at 170 North Main Street in Liberty. Both centers are open every night until Tuesday, March 31.
According to William Moon, Sullivan County’s Deputy Heath Commissioner, started in 2015, the county’s family services expanded its partner network of agencies that assist in solving individual issues. With last summer’s appointment of a family services housing coordinator, the county hopes to implement a master plan “for the gradual reduction in homeless growth throughout the fall and into 2029. We believe that an overall reduction of 30 to 35 percent is possible during the first year.”
Speaking of homelessness and the myriad number of issues associated with the problem, Kreiter said, “This can be a rough bunch of people,” citing as a recent example her after-hours encounter with a man wearing woman’s flip-flops, one of which was broken. “He had a kids-size bike and a bag with what looked like everything he owned. He was meek and mild, and I didn’t know his story, or where he came from… but I stopped and gave him a pair of shoes.
“There but for the Grace of God, go I,” said Krieter.
The Sullivan County Federation for the Homeless is located at 9 Monticello St., Monticello, NY 12701. For information about their services, and how to donate or volunteer, call 845/794-2604 or visit www.scfederation.org.
The National Situation: A Brief Overview
According to a report published by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, although homelessness increased by 0.3% between 2017 and 2018, there has been a general downward trend in the problem during the last decade.
Recent statistics indicate note that between 2007 and 2012, an average of 630,000 people experienced homelessness every year, but according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, on a single night in 2018, total of 552,830 people experienced homelessness.
The non-profit organization, which charts homelessness in the United States, stated in a recent report titled “State of Homelessness,” that this number represents 17 out of every 10,000 people in the country, based upon the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) annual Point-in-Time Count, the nation’s only survey of homeless people.
According to this report, the majority of people experiencing homelessness are individuals (67%), while the remaining 33% are “people in families with children”.