Today’s Read: New York City Homeless Shelters Get Warm Welcome
While Coalition for the Homeless diligently advocates for permanent housing solutions that can address the root causes of homelessness, we also acknowledge that shelters serve a vital emergency need. New York City’s right to shelter ensures that we do not have the massive tent encampments seen in so many other cities across the country, and offers more than 60,000 New Yorkers each night shelter from the elements and a place to sleep instead of being relegated to the streets.
But far too often, the news that a shelter is opening nearby is met with vociferous opposition from local businesses and residents. Some community members react with knee-jerk resistance, based on harmful negative stereotypes and unfounded fears.
Although the “NIMBY” voices tend to be loudest, others recognize that the record numbers of men, women, and children experiencing homelessness deserve compassion rather than scorn. For the past three years, the Coalition has sought to elevate those unsung heroes who warmly welcome their homeless neighbors with our annual Compassionate Communities Award. Across the city, community members are stepping up and contributing what they can in order to make sure their homeless neighbors have the support, resources, and encouragement they need.
Last year’s honoree, Welcoming Neighbors Northwest Bronx, was recently profiled by Tyler Blint-Welsh in The Wall Street Journal:
In 2017, Ivan Braun, a 74-year-old resident of the Kingsbridge neighborhood in the Bronx, helped found Welcoming Neighbors, a group created as a direct response to local opposition over plans to open a shelter called Broadway Family Plaza. Mr. Braun said he was inspired by Give Me Shelter BK, a group based in Kensington, Brooklyn, that formed out of similar circumstances.
Since Broadway Family Plaza opened in his neighborhood, Mr. Braun has helped spearhead a number of events to integrate families to the area. The group, which meets in Kingsbridge residents’ living rooms and at nearby Manhattan College, has planned annual Halloween parties, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, as well as celebrations for Mother’s and Father’s Day. One Kingsbridge resident who initially opposed the shelter is now one of the group’s most dedicated volunteers.
“When there was clear opposition and people claiming that the world was going to end if a few homeless people started to have a good place to live in our community, the illogic of that needed to be addressed,” he said in a recent interview.
New York Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, a Democrat who represents the Upper West Side in Manhattan, brought Mr. Braun to speak to a community meeting last month after she grew concerned about the backlash to a shelter being sited in her district. She encouraged Upper West Side residents to create a similar organization. Residents have since met several times since early June at a local synagogue to help set goals for the informal group and divvy up roles.
“There’s a homelessness crisis and we think it’s an all-hands-on-deck kind of situation. Everyone who lives here needs to be thinking of this, and determining how they can be of service,” said Sarah Crean, Ms. Rosenthal’s spokeswoman.
If you would like to nominate a group for the 2019 Compassionate Communities Award, please email firstname.lastname@example.org by September 30th.