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  • Writer's pictureTommy Zurhellen

Shelter from the Storm

Monday, May 1st

Dear Friends:

This Sunday, my friend Chloe and I delivered the evening meal for the Dutchess County homeless shelter (a.k.a. the PODs) located on Hamilton Street in Poughkeepsie, behind the county jail. Over the years, I’ve lost count of how many meals I’ve served or delivered to folks in our county shelter, but honestly it never feels like work. I love seeing the simple, magical power a home-cooked meal can have on folks who might be feeling lost, lonely or forgotten. Our moms knew that secret: a good meal at the right time can warm our hearts, and help us find sunshine when days feel dark.

By now, you’ve heard about the sad saga of our county shelter. It reads like a cheap novel, but the price tag for taxpayers certainly hasn’t been cheap. Basically, our county government paid 3 million dollars for a property in the City of Poughkeepsie to replace the PODs. As it turns out, that new property was never going to work as a shelter, with a lack of bed space and perhaps even worse, a lack of kitchen facilities to serve meals. The plan was doomed from the start, but it took our county leaders a year to admit the mistake, wasting even more taxpayer funds. The whole debacle exposed how little our county government cares about our most vulnerable population.

We need to get rid of the tired stereotypes about people experiencing homelessness. In reality, many of the folks I meet at our county shelter have regular jobs – they just can’t afford today’s skyrocketing rents. More and more young people are experiencing homelessness, too, often to escape a bad situation at home. And perhaps most shocking is the HUD report that shows the number of homeless folks over the age of 62 has doubled since 2009. The truth is, the vast majority of people living at our shelter are good citizens merely looking for a chance to catch their breath or make a stand. Most of these folks are simply seeking shelter from the storm.

My friend Yvette Valdés Smith is the Minority Leader of the Dutchess County Legislature, and she’s fed up with the way our county government operates behind closed doors. “This administration doesn’t include or involve the community most affected by the shelter,” she said. “It’s also a massive concern that the administration is looking to relocate our vulnerable homeless population into the old jail. This is dehumanizing and wrong.”

I agree, Yvette. At best, this is bad leadership. At worst, it’s yet another example of indifference and mean-spiritedness from a county government that lost touch with residents a long time ago.

It’s time for a change. It’s time to elect county leaders who value compassion over corporations. We need a county government that works to protect our most vulnerable citizens, not stuff them away in some dilapidated jail to sleep in cells meant for criminals. That’s not leadership, that’s just cruelty.

Won’t you join us in our fight for a better Dutchess? Please consider a donation using the secure Act Blue link below to help us share our message of hope and inclusion with every voter in Dutchess County. I will never take money from corporations or PACs, so we depend 100% on heroes just like you to step up and make a difference. Please donate today!

Thanks to Chloe for delivering the shelter meal, in the driving rain! And as always thank you, for listening. See you next time!

Respectfully, Tommy

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