Legal Aid Society of Rockland County

Cold, hard facts: Rockland counts homeless population

The following article appeared Jan 30, 2015 on the Pensacola News Journal website.

SPRING VALLEY – John Fella and Harold Louissant slowly climbed down a snow-covered slope Friday morning to visit a homeless encampment under the Lawrence Street overpass.

“Hello! How are you doing? Can I speak to you for a second?” Fella, with the Rockland County Department of Social Services, called out as he spotted a man in the darkness.

Fella and Louissant, a volunteer, were part of the nationwide survey known as the Point-in-Time Count, which documents the number of sheltered and unsheltered people experiencing homelessness on a single night. The Department of Housing and Urban Development asks communities to carry out the survey during the last 10 days of January. The annual figure has been used as a basis for funding distribution from the federal agency.

The January 2014 survey counted 125 people in Rockland — 19 living outdoors, 66 in emergency shelters, and 40 in temporary housing.

Homeless advocates in Rockland conducted an annual survey to document the number of sheltered and unsheltered people experiencing homelessness on a single night. Video by Akiko Matsuda/The Journal News

In Rockland, volunteers with organizations such as Helping Hands, Open Arms, the Legal Aid Society of Rockland and Loeb House are assisting the county in conducting the survey. From 10 a.m. Friday to 2 a.m. Saturday, teams of volunteers, with bags of personal care products in hand to give away, spread out to visit abandoned homes or outdoor areas that are known as places where homeless people sleep.

With the help of Louissant, who speaks Spanish, Fella asked the man under the Lawrence Street overpass basic questions. It turned out that the man, who identified himself as Silvano Vasquez, a Guatemalan native, knew about homeless-assistance programs but chose to stay outdoors.

Many tried to help homeless woman found dead
“Sometimes there are eight to 10 people here,” Louissant said.

Ram Nagubandi, director of the Rockland County Office of Community Development, said some people refuse to seek assistance because they lack legal status.

“Sometimes they are afraid to come to a shelter,” Nagubandi said, noting that that’s why nonprofit organizations work with local churches to provide temporary housing. “They shouldn’t be afraid. But sometimes it happens.”

Ya’el Williams, director of program services for Helping Hands, said homelessness in Rockland seemed to be getting worse.

“A lot of them have jobs, but they just can’t afford the rent here in Rockland County,” Williams said. “The cost of the rent is too high in Rockland County for a single individual who’s barely making over minimum wage.”

It was unclear Friday when the Point-in-Time Count was scheduled in Westchester and Putnam counties.

To find out more about the Legal Aid Society and how you can support their work, call (845) 634-3627, or visit their website at