On Monday, January 27, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York hosted a panel discussion on homelessness–focusing on supportive housing options—to mark the kickoff of New York City’s annual HOPE (Homeless Outreach Population Estimate) Count. The event, held at the Chapel of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Manhattan, was led by Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities New York (CCNY).
The panel included Larissa Story, program director, Homebase, a CCNY Community Services eviction assistance program; Alison Hughes-Kelsick, director of CCNY’s Educational Outreach Program, which provides bereavement counseling, mentoring and a storytelling program; and Harold Moss, division director, Beacon of Hope, a network of housing options for those with serious mental illnesses, with the goal of easing their re-entry into healthy community living.
Two people who have survived on the street rounded out the panel. Rachel Haddock lives in an East Harlem shelter and Arturo Rivera finally has a roof over his head and mental health care, thanks to the Catholic Charities St. Augustine Terrace Apartments supportive housing program in the Bronx. It is part of a newer network that attends not just to sheltering the body, but also to caring for the mind. Many homeless people are battling with trauma, grief and PTSD, all of which go undiagnosed and unresolved until they get help.
A SMILE IS ALL YOU NEED
Haddock’s bed is part of the Holy Rosary Stabilization Bed Program—based in the former Holy Rosary Convent in East Harlem and dedicated to providing shelter and comprehensive care to people who have been on the street for years. It was started in 2016 under a partnership between Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York and the Bowery Residents Committee (BRC) with funding from the Department of Homeless Services (DHS). Haddock said her father died within the last five years and added that she has a distrust of people and had been sleeping on the trains, sometimes going two or three days without rest.
“Often, all people need is a smile,” she said, when audience members asked how to interact with the homeless.
But it also takes the gift of patience and often, many repeated attempts to convince someone who is lost and wandering that he or she can take safe shelter and find honest support in the midst of our bustling city.
“TRUST TAKES A WHILE”
“You want to help somebody, but sometimes, people aren’t ready to be helped,” Monsignor Sullivan said. “The challenge is engaging people, getting them to participate in some of these services. It may take between 12 and 16 times of asking for someone to accept the offer.”
“That trust takes a while,” Moss agreed. “Homeless people need respect, and this is what we give to them,” said Hughes-Kelsick. “They have become invisible.”
Her agency focuses on addressing mental illness and frequent addictions to alcohol and drugs. She said the storytelling arm of the program is vital because someone “can claim their story, have a voice and have the power to share it by giving it away.”
“I came from a nice home. My mother raised me,” Rivera said. “I suffer from mental health problems. I was always in and out of the psych wards throughout the city.” He added that he is happy at St. Augustine. “I’m friends with everybody. I love the community activities, the bingo. And I see a therapist twice a month and a psychiatrist once a month.”
St. Augustine Terrace is an affordable, multi-family complex built on the site of the former St. Augustine Church. The newly constructed 12-story development includes on-site parking, a landscaped terrace, a community room and Beacon of Hope offices.
It is part of a larger initiative of the Archdiocese of New York and Catholic Charities of New York to upcycle underutilized church properties into affordable housing units throughout the city. In the next 10 years it is expected that 2,000 affordable units will be built. Locations under development include St. Philip Neri and St. Vincent de Paul Center, both in the Bronx.
ON A WISH AND A PRAYER
Before the volunteers headed out into the dark for the annual count, Monsignor Sullivan bowed his head in prayer.
“Almighty God, we ask your blessing on our sisters and brothers whom we will encounter tonight as we walk the streets of our neighborhood,” Monsignor said. “May our reaching out to them, we pray, be an opportunity for them to be less fearful.”
CCNY volunteers canvassed neighborhoods in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island. For more information or to join next year’s HOPE count, visit the city’s DHS website.