“A lot of the people in this world, they don’t think of the homeless, and when they do think of the homeless, they think of nasty people who live on the street that don’t get up and don’t get a job,” said Joyce Clark, who moved out of Bethany House three years ago to settle into a West Hempstead apartment. “They don’t see the inside of life for people who have to live in the state of New York and can’t afford rent, and they have children and they need help.”
Clark is one of the many women who found refuge at Bethany House, a nonprofit that provides shelter and services for homeless women and children, many of whom have been physically abused, in five residences around Nassau County. She was at the Bethany House in Baldwin, on Demott Avenue, on Feb. 11 when ProHEALTH Care presented a $100,000 check to the organization. It was the largest donation that the group had received from a corporation.
“I thought it was very generous of them to do that. It was definitely a blessing,” Clark said of the funds, and the additional 3,000 items donated to the house, including clothes, diapers and toiletries, that filled the garage. Her two young children, Tyree and Kyra Williams, were with her for the experience, and now her sister, Shamiqua Heard, is living in the house with her two children and newborn baby.
“I’m very emotional today,” Sister Aimee Koonmen, the founder of Bethany House, said in a shaky voice during a news conference in the living room, “because of all that has been done for us by ProHEALTH Care.”
A helping hand
ProHEALTH Care, which offers a variety of health care services throughout the state, partnered with Bethany House to fundraise for the organization and provide medical care for its members.
The ProHEALTH Urgent Care center in Freeport has treated Bethany House members — often struck with seasonal illnesses like the flu — free of charge. Additionally, $1 per patient visit is donated to Bethany House.
“Basically, they text me or call me and say one of our members here is sick, and they go to urgent care and they’re ‘VIP’d,’” explained Dr. Bonnie Simmons, chair of ProHEALTH Urgent Care. “Maybe for the first time in their life they’re truly ‘VIP’d’ over there.”
The partnership has benefited people like Clark and Heard, who struggled to get back on their feet after facing hardships. “I’ve been through a lot, but Bethany House has helped me come through that,” Clark said. “I came in broken, and I walked out fixed. It’s amazing.” Although she has moved out, she and her children remain heavily involved in the activities and events hosted by Bethany House.
Clark said, when she first came, she struggled with balancing her emotions with those of her children. “Bethany House made it better for me because it felt more like a home. It didn’t feel like I was in a shelter,” she said. “I felt like I was at home in a big house full of family.”
Recently, Clark got the flu and visited the Freeport urgent care center, where she said the staff welcomed her and treated her without a co-pay. Last year, someone rammed into her car and she sustained nerve damage to her left hand. Only one of her fingers moves freely, and her arm is in a sling.
“For me to go 20 steps forward, I felt like I got knocked back 10,” she said. “But with the strength of Bethany House — they just keep reminding me that I’ll be OK, and I just keep believing I’m going to be OK. So I just stay involved as much as I can, keep my faith as much as I can and I tell the girls, we try doing the best that we can, but sometimes you just never know.”
She has been unable to work for the past year and said disability benefits only last so long.
“It’s stressful, but some things are out of your control, and it’s just not your fault, and sometimes things are your fault, but you have to figure out what you’re going to do in between to fix those things,” Clark said.
Koonmen said that Bethany House shelters house up to 75 women and children a night, and about 1,500 people are homeless in Nassau County alone.
“Every day, they come in and they’re sad and they’re frightened, and we got to love them back to life,” she said. “God bless you all, and please always remember the homeless. We need all of you to help all of us.”
Koonmen and the staff of Bethany House presented a plaque to Dr. Zeyad Baker, ProHEALTH president and chief executive officer, to recognize the company’s contributions.
“I think the success of this partnership should be measured in years, not on one discreet day or check,” Baker said. “And to the extent that this sets an example for bigger and better partnerships with ourselves and others to Bethany House as a model that leads to greater things.”
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, of Baldwin, told Bethany House members and staffers that the county stands ready to help the organization. “Bethany House plays such an important role in helping women who are homeless with children get their lives back together, providing the support, providing the infrastructure, providing the food,” Curran said, “and now ProHEALTH is stepping in and providing something that really is a challenge to so many of our families, and that is quality medical care.”
Health is an important part of getting your life back together, Curran continued, because staying healthy enables one to be self-reliant. The sentiment struck a chord with some of the residents.
“Bethany House plays a critical role in helping women and children escape dangerous situations and find alternative housing options,” State Sen. Todd Kaminsky said in a statement.
Heard, who was evicted from her apartment about a year ago, after she was unable to keep up with the rent, said Bethany House was the best place she could be. “It was kind of depressing,” she said, recalling when she first came to the shelter. “My son was old enough to understand that we have to move, so as a parent, you feel like you’re letting your child down.”
The shelter, though, was clean and stocked with food and friendly staff members who were willing to talk and help out, she said. Her hands have been full as she cares for her three children.
“It eased my mind a lot, just because I know that I could come somewhere every night to stay,” Heard said. “It’s temporary, definitely. Within now and the next couple of months I’m looking to move out.”
Juanita Boppdoyle, who is on the board of directors at Bethany House, is a self-proclaimed “success story.” Ten years ago, she found herself living in one of the shelters, struggling with her ex-husband, who was seeking custody of their child.
“I went from having nothing to owning my home outright,” she said, which she couldn’t have done without the tools she learned at Bethany House. Now, she pays it forward to other women seeking shelter.
“It’s important for people to realize that homelessness is not just that bum on the street,” Boppdoyle said. “That bum is a person. And homelessness — it’s not a paycheck away, it’s one situation away.”