New York City’s homeless raising money with annual fashion show

When she walks down the runway at the annual Care for the Homeless fashion show wearing a red gown with a black fedora, 57-year-old Renee Brooks says she may break out some Michael Jackson moves.

“It’s definitely a Michael Jackson fedora,” Brooks said, laughing. “Do we have a glove, just one?”

This will be Brooks’ second year participating in the Health Empowered Beauty Fashion Show, which began several years ago in the cafeteria of Susan’s Place, a transitional residence in the Bronx for homeless women.

Now in its sixth year, the event raises money for Care for the Homeless, a nonprofit that runs Susan’s Place and provides services to homeless men, women and children. This year’s show will be on Thursday, Sept. 20 at 6 p.m. at the Prince George Ballroom at 15 E. 27th St.

The 15 models are former or current residents of Susan’s Place, and they will keep the clothes they wear, which were donated by several companies, including Eloquii and Torrid.

The event “takes the stigma off of being homeless,” says Brooks, who still occasionally wears the black skirt and sparkly gold shirt she wore at last year’s show.

“The fashion show shows that we’re real people, we have real lives and that we really deserve to be looked at differently,” she said.

Brooks, a lifelong Brooklynite, has a heart defibrillator and was in the hospital last month when her kidneys started to fail. She lost her apartment of 23 years after she had to take care of her ill mother in Florida about three and a half years ago.

When she came back to the city, she didn’t have anywhere to stay and has been at Susan’s Place since June 2017, she said. At the time, she was a 911 operator, she said, but her health has worsened, preventing her from working.

Though there are things she would change at Susan’s Place — she is currently on a committee that is pushing for more nutritious food options — she is grateful to have a bed and a roof over her head.

“A lot of us really are happy and looking forward to our futures,” she said.

Susan’s Place, which has 200 beds for women who are medically frail or mentally ill, has placed more than 900 women in supportive or affordable housing since its opening in 2008, according to Care for the Homeless.

Last year’s fashion show raised $16,000 for the nonprofit, a spokeswoman said.

To get tickets, visit CareforTheHomeless.org.