The Brooklyn Heights Synagogue celebrated three decades of helping homeless people last week.
The synagogue houses a homeless shelter and the shelter’s founder, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, acknowledged the anniversary by getting to work, spending the night on Thursday setting up beds and sleeping alongside his less-fortunate guests. Jacobs got interested in battling homelessness in the 1980s and said things have not gotten better since then.
“Thirty years later, the epidemic of homelessness has not abated and the need for safe shelter is as urgent as ever,” Jacobs said in a statement.
The synagogue on Remsen Street provides warm beds and hot meals to 10 men four nights a week. It usually runs during the cold months, starting in November and ending in May. Last year it lent a hand to 566 people in need. The number is impressive for an all-volunteer effort, but seems minuscule when compared to the 53,000 New Yorkers who spend the night in shelters across the city each night, according to the Coalition for the Homeless.
“We knew that it wouldn’t dent the problem of homelessness in our city,” Jacobs said. “But we felt it a necessary measure.”
About 250 people volunteer at the shelter each year, and not all of them come from the synagogue, an organizer said.
“Families, children, and teens contribute as volunteers, each doing what they can,” said Andrea Feller, a volunteer coordinator for the shelter. “We have a wide reach within Brownstone Brooklyn.”
People in need of shelter are brought to the synagogue by bus from Camba, the Brooklyn-based social service agency. In addition to providing food and shelter, the synagogue takes pride in offering homeless men companionship and conversation.“We have to open up our hearts, our minds, and our synagogue,” said Anne Landman, shelter’s other coordinator. “People need help right now.