Women Mean Business Luncheon Raises $600,000 for First Step

On Friday, April 28th nearly 250 business and community leaders joined First Step graduates, Coalition for the Homeless staff, and program supporters at the Plaza Hotel for the 2023 Women Mean Business Luncheon. This year’s celebration was a tremendous success, raising over $600,000 for the Coalition’s First Step Job Training Program, ensuring we are able to provide the courageous women we serve with the training and support they need to begin successful careers and transform their lives.

The Women Mean Business Luncheon program in The Plaza Hotel Grand Ballroom.

This year we welcomed back Emmy Award-winning CBS2 News Anchor and Reporter Cindy Hsu as our emcee. Cindy brought her high level of energy and wit to celebrate the amazing women of First Step. 

Emcee Cindy Hsu, CBS2 News Anchor and Reporter.

In his opening remarks, Coalition for the Homeless Executive Director Dave Giffen reflected on the devastating growth of homelessness in New York City and how the First Step Job Training Program continues to give homeless and low-income women a way to leave homelessness and poverty behind forever. Since its inception in 1991, First Step has inspired hope in and empowered nearly 2,000 women. 

Coalition for the Homeless Executive Director Dave Giffen.

Alicia Graf Mack, Dean and Director of Julliard Dance, gave an unforgettable keynote address that drew parallels between the first position in ballet (which she demonstrated on stage) and taking one’s “first step” toward a new life. Alicia relayed how she sees and experiences the world through movement, and spoke of the incredibly inspiring women of First Step and how they “embody the very qualities of the most accomplished ballerinas: grace and grit.” 

Without a doubt, the highlights of the luncheon were the moving and triumphant personal accounts of First Step graduates Melissalee and Belinda.  

This year’s First Step video featured Melissalee’s journey through the shelter system and the struggles she faced before finding First Step. First Step became a turning point in Melissalee’s story, restoring her hope and giving her the tools she needs to thrive professionally. The skills and confidence Melissalee gained through the program lend themselves well to her current work with the Coalition’s Advocacy Department.  

Our graduate speaker, Belinda, moved the room to laughter, tears, and a standing ovation after bravely delivering a moving speech on the many twists and turns of her life before finding First Step. Throughout the course of her life, Belinda held a wide variety of low-wage jobs to support herself and her family, until finally finding First Step when she “walked into the wrong room at the right time.” Through First Step, she was able to not only secure a long-term, living wage job, but also move up in her company into a management position and find ways to give back to the program that helped her so much.

The Coalition was delighted to honor Ruth Pryor for her steadfast compassion, commitment, and generosity towards the First Step Program. Long-time First Step Advisory Board member Barbara Kolsun introduced Ruth as the event’s Philanthropic Honoree. Since joining the First Step Advisory Board in 2018, Ruth has been a fierce and loyal ally of the program’s holistic approach to job training and to date has donated over $1,000,000 to ensure the program’s continued success.

We would like to thank the attendees, sponsors, the Coalition’s Board of Directors, and the First Step Advisory Board for making this event so memorable. Melissalee’s and Belinda’s stories are just two examples of the life-long support provided to homeless and low-income women by the amazing staff of the First Step Job Training Program. This program’s unique combination of hard-skills training, job-readiness training, workshops, internships, and social services support has allowed hundreds of women from over 175 classes (and counting) to thrive and find a way out of homelessness and poverty for themselves and their families. It is your support that has helped make First Step the successful program that it is today. 

Not able to attend the luncheon this year? Please consider making a gift in support of First Step. 

Another Successful Holiday Toy Drive!

We are thrilled to announce that the Coalition’s 2022 Holiday Toy Drive was a great success. Thanks to you and your support we collected and distributed nearly 10,000 toys to children in New York City shelters! 

We were delighted to kick off the season by throwing our annual Kid’s Holiday Carnival on December 10th with more than 70 children, who joined us for an afternoon of games, music, festive food and special guests. The children were elated to walk into a winter wonderland of colorful decorations, delicious food and exciting gift bags packed with special treats. Everyone sat in awe during the amazing magic show, and the kids were overjoyed as they were treated to a personal visit with Santa himself, who sent all of the children home with their arms full of goodies and presents. 

Thanks to you, we were able to give out hundreds of action figures, barbie dolls, cars, plush toys, and so much more, giving thousands of children the magic and joy of the holidays! But most importantly, we gave these great kids happy memories that they will look back on with smiles for years to come. 

We want to send a special thanks to Spectrum News and Roger Clark for once again featuring our Toy Drive in the news, which resulted in an overwhelming wave of toys and support. 

We also appreciate all of the companies that participated and helped make all this possible, especially Antin Infrastructure Partners, Atrium, Ben Group, Carnegie Corporation of NY, Danone, PDT Partners, Parsons, Pfizer, Siguler Guff & Company, SimCorp, and so many more! And a special thanks to all the individuals who shared info about and supported the drive to help us reach our goal! 

We know it is not an easy time for many of us, and that makes any type of support we receive even more special. Thank you for reminding us that through the good times and the hard times, you are still here with us. 

Thanks again, and happy New Year from everyone at the Coalition!

Out of Reach Report Makes a Case for Investing in Housing

Affordable housing remains out of reach for countless people in New York and across the United States. The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s latest annual Out of Reach report underscores the ever-growing divide between stagnant incomes and rising rents throughout the nation. This year’s report found that a full-time worker earning the minimum wage cannot afford a two-bedroom rental in any state, county, or city in the country, and they can only afford a one-bedroom rental in a paltry 9 percent of all U.S. counties.

The data for New York are particularly troubling. Compared with all states, New York State has the fourth highest “housing wage” – the hourly wage a full-time worker must earn to rent a modest home without spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Consistent with the annual report’s findings from past years, the affordability issues are even more dire in the New York City region, where the 2022 Fair Market Rent is $2,054 for a one-bedroom apartment and $2,340 for a two-bedroom apartment. A full-time worker needs to make $39.50 per hour to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment in New York City, or $45 per hour for a two-bedroom apartment – which is triple the $15 local hourly minimum wage. The brunt of this affordability crisis disproportionately falls on Black and Latinx renters, and especially Black and Latinx women, whose incomes in low-wage industries are often insufficient to match the exorbitant cost of housing. About one-third of families in NYC shelters include someone who is employed, but they still cannot afford rent. In a June brief, we highlighted the pronounced lack of affordable housing in New York City and how our housing market is mismatched with the needs of the population.

We know the solution to homelessness is affordable and accessible housing. Rather than painting homelessness and housing instability as personal moral failures or using them for political fanfare, we must acknowledge that these are systemic issues and hold elected officials accountable for affirming that housing is a human right.

All levels of government must recognize the severity of the housing crisis and invest in housing on a scale to match the need. This means fully funding housing vouchers, including making Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers an entitlement, to help bridge the difference between incomes and rents. As we explained in our State of the Homeless 2022 report, the City must also build significantly more housing that is actually affordable to people with the lowest incomes, by producing at least 6,000 apartments per year for homeless households and 6,000 apartments per year for households with extremely low incomes. Such bold action is necessary to reverse course and finally make affordable housing a reality within the reach of all New Yorkers.