For two and a half months, Orlando Sotlo hasn’t had a permanent place to sleep. Sometimes he sets up a tarp in one of the wooded areas of the city. Other times he’s offered a truck to stay in for a few nights.
Either way, he sees puffs of his breath above his cold face just before he closes his eyes for the night.
“I’ve had to see how I’m going to survive this winter, because it’s not that easy,” Sotlo said.
Dozens of men in Glen Cove face the same harsh reality since the North Shore Sheltering Program doors remained closed for the first few weeks of winter. The shelter, at the First Presbyterian Church of Glen Cove, is normally open to homeless men the day after Thanksgiving and closes at the end of March.
This year, there were concerns that it wouldn’t open at all, but the shelter was able to resume its program. It is scheduled to open from Feb. 1 to March 31.
For 23 years, the shelter worked in tandem with the church to house residents for its seasonal program. Initially, the shelter rented space within the church for $7,900 a year. The staff handled the cleaning for its residents, while the church provided the space for them to sleep.
For the past two years however, the program has been in needed of a new space to house the men due to architectural problems with the church. Last year the shelter housed residents in single-occupancy rooms. Four rooms were rented monthly for the dozen shelter residents, alongside yearlong residents, for $3,200 per month.
Cantor Gustavo Gitlin of Congregation Tifereth Israel, president of the North Shore Sheltering Program’s board of trustees, said single-room occupancy was a needed resource for its residents, but it came at a high price, which became
unaffordable this year.
Gitlin added that some of the men they help have mental illnesses and find it difficult to live with family. Others use the shelter to save money during the winter so they can send it home to their families overseas. The program does try to help residents find stable housing throughout the year, but have faced several hurdles.
“It’s easier for the program to help men who are citizens so they can get social security benefits, but more difficult to help those who are undocumented,” Gitlin said.
The program has no funding from any government agencies. Instead, it is funded by volunteers and generous people in Glen Cove.
Rev. Lana Hurst said although hosting the shelter has been an important part of the church’s identity for two decades, architectural assessments raised concerns that the building is not sustainable for long-term use. There are many instances of wood-rot and leaks, but Hurst said there is no immediate danger to the church’s structural integrity at the moment.
The church’s initial response to the damages was to sell the building and rent another space to meet. This conflicted with the shelter returning for the season. Another conversation among church leaders was a plan to stay and repair the roof, but that options is not affordable.
Presently, the church is not for sale and elders are discussing how to mend their dilemma. In the meantime, Hurst said that helping the men’s shelter embodies a sense of pride in the church.
Dawn Kallman, vice president of the sheltering program’s board of trustees, said that finding a new space for the residents isn’t easy. Each space the shelter approaches has complications with insurance or size. The shelter has investigated buying their own space, but they don’t have enough money set aside.
This week, the sheltering program will hold an emergency meeting to discuss ideas on how to permanently solve the issue of keeping men housed for the winter season.
“If anybody knows of a space for us, that would be wonderful instead of having to rely on the year-to-year hopes of having the church,” Kallman said.
The shelter, she said, would be happy to share a space with another organization, but finding a space with a shower, bathroom and kitchen is necessary.