Immigrants And Refugees

The Many Faces of Homelessness

HOPE Panel 2024 Lead image

On Tuesday, January 23, the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS) conducted its annual Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE) Count, a citywide community volunteer effort to count every New Yorker sleeping on the streets during the winter months.

On the same evening, at the Chapel of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, Catholic Charities of New York hosted the panel, “The Many Faces of Homelessness.” The pre-count kick-off event also involved preparing 150 meals for homeless individuals.

The panel was moderated by Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director of Catholic Charities New York (CCNY) and featured the Acting Commissioner of the New York City Department of Social Services Molly Wasow Park, President and CEO of Catholic Homes New York Russell Lang, Executive Director of Nazareth Housing Rachel Levine, Executive Director of Covenant House New York Dr. Shakeema North, and Catholic Charities’ client Dina Smalls, who offered her personal experience as formerly unhoused individual.

Commissioner Molly Wasow Park emphasized the importance of building trust and relationships with those experiencing homelessness. “The goal is really to help them to come inside,” said Commissioner Park. “In New York City, about 95% of people experiencing homelessness are in a shelter. Most of our HOPE Count numbers have been in the range of 3,500 to 4,000 people in the street. That’s too many.

In the mission to address homelessness, Monsignor Kevin Sullivan passionately emphasized, “Our unhoused neighbors deserve to be treated with respect, compassion, and human dignity.” This sentiment underscores Catholic Charities’ commitment to ensuring that those without homes have advocates. Monsignor Sullivan noted the need for everyone concerned about those living on the streets to raise awareness, stating, “We want to make sure that our sisters and brothers who are without homes are not forgotten so that we can take those steps needed to ensure that there are fewer homeless individuals next year than this year.”

Catholic Charities works closely with the city to provide a holistic continuum of supportive services, aiming to address the root causes of homelessness and transition individuals into permanent housing. Commissioner Park outlined a multifaceted approach, including outreach work, low-barrier beds, and a focus on permanent housing solutions.

Dina Smalls is a Catholic Charities client who once faced homelessness. She appeared on the panel as a special guest highlighting the transformative impact of Catholic Charities’ support. In her powerful testimonial, she shared, “Through Catholic Charities, I found out there is love out there.” As a mother and formerly homeless client, Smalls not only secured permanent housing through Catholic Homes New York, but also benefited from a comprehensive range of support services provided at her apartment building.

Catholic Charities of New York played a pivotal role in Smalls’ journey, offering not just shelter but also facilitating personal growth. Smalls expressed her gratitude, stating, “Catholic Charities is different. They helped me grow into the person that I am today.” The organization provided vital resources, including life skills workshops and one-on-one mentoring sessions, empowering Smalls to rebuild her life.

Reflecting on her experience, Smalls emphasized the genuine care provided by Catholic Charities, stating, “There are people out there that genuinely care, people that you can reach out to.” She cherishes the ongoing support, affirming, “I can always reach out to Catholic Charities, no matter what. I am just so blessed that I have Catholic Charities.” This heartfelt testimonial captures the profound impact of fostering hope, dignity, and lasting positive change in the lives of those once facing homelessness.

In affirming the fundamental belief that housing is a basic human right, Monsignor Sullivan stated, “It is a basic human right that a human being, to live in dignity, should have a place that they can call home.” This principle underscores the mission of Catholic Charities in ensuring that every New Yorker has access to a home. Despite this, thousands of our sisters and brothers in New York still lack this basic necessity.

Monsignor Sullivan emphasized the collective societal responsibility to care for the homeless. “As a community, as a society, as Christians, as Catholics, and as New Yorkers, we are here to do what we can to make sure that there are fewer homeless people and more people living sheltered, more people in their own apartments.” The commitment is clear – to create a community where individuals can live their lives with greater dignity, recognizing the inherent value each person possesses as made in God’s image.

Catholic Charities actively engages in the city-wide HOPE Count initiative each year. From 10 PM until 4 AM in the morning, our volunteers canvas parks, subway stations, and other public spaces to estimate the number of unsheltered homeless people. The outreach includes distributing packed meals and engaging with the homeless population.

We accompany individuals on their journey from living on the streets to finding housing. This transition is often challenging, especially for those who have experienced prolonged periods of homelessness. Changing one’s circumstances can be difficult, particularly for those who have been on the streets for an extended time. However, Catholic Charities is dedicated to supporting individuals throughout this process, staying with them for as long as it takes to facilitate a successful transition and ensure they are no longer without shelter on the streets.

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