Warnerville UMC warming center reopens
Warnerville UMC pastor, Maryellen (Mel) Moore, was compelled to help a single mother with four children in her congregation as they faced homelessness. She worked with the local Department of Social Services (DSS) and Catholic Charities to find services and housing for this member. Because of the housing shortage in Schoharie County, DSS and Catholic Charities find motel or hotel rooms for those needing assistance.
When one thinks about homelessness, they often picture an urban setting. The truth is that homelessness can happen anywhere. Warnerville is a small town in the Oneonta District, with less than 700 residents.
The Rev. Anna Blinn Cole, pastor at Cobleskill UMC was a pastor at Warnerville UMC from 2016-2021. She is also a member of the Oneonta District Leadership Team; she said, “Homelessness in Schoharie county has grown exponentially in recent years.”
Pastor Moore knew that this issue needed to be addressed. With the encouragement of the local DSS, Warnerville UMC opened a warming center at the church in the beginning of Nov. 2022.
Pastor Moore said, “The center was open every night from 5:30 p.m. until 7 a.m. the next morning.”
About two weeks after the warming center opened, the local Code Enforcer “barged in” one evening, shutting the center down. He said what they were doing was illegal.
Rev. Blinn Cole said, “It was so traumatizing—he alienated the people that were there. One of the men ended up going to the library and slept on the steps. Another woman moved to a lean-to attached to the church and cried, “What he did was illegal!”
Pastor Moore and Rev. Blinn Cole agreed. They went to several town meetings about this issue. Some agreed that the shutdown was illegal. Others, including a nearby apartment complex owner, disagreed.
Pastor Moore and Rev. Blinn Cole decided to appeal the shutdown.
Attorney Fred Mauhs, who attended Warnerville as a child in the 1960s and 70s, caught wind of the situation and offered to represent Pastor Moore and Rev. Blinn Cole pro bono at the Jan. 4 Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) hearing.
The day of the hearing, a rally was planned in front of the church. Over a dozen people showed up, holding signs with such phrases as “Compassion” and “Blessed are the poor!”
At the ZBA hearing, tears and shouts of joy erupted when the ZBA voted unanimously to the order barring the warming center to operate from November through March each year.
Pastor Moore said, “The room was electric with the Holy Spirit!”
“I cannot express how stellar the people at DSS and Catholic Charities were at helping us with this,” Mel added.
Pastor Moore is now on a planning committee with DSS and Catholic Charities—they meet monthly to discuss local needs. She is happy to speak with Upper New York members who are interested in opening a warming center or collaborating with local agencies to help those in need. You can reach her at 518-827-5126 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now, homeless residents in Schoharie county have a place to go and stay warm on frigid nights. The Warnerville Warming Center, officially a Code Blue warming center, has 10 beds and hot water with soup mixes, tea, and coffee. There is also a washer and dryer available for the guests to use.