With homelessness continuing to be a major issue citywide, attention is often paid to communities who are resistant to new shelters coming into their area. But the Coalition for the Homeless is recognizing Manhattan’s Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen community for its history of welcoming social services, including a shelter for homeless women that opened in 2018.
The organization is giving Manhattan’s Community Board 4 its Fourth Annual Compassionate Communities award for this welcoming spirit.
The coalition noted the constructive response after an announcement in late 2018 that a shelter for single homeless women would be opening on 52nd Street by the nonprofit Care For the Homeless. CB4 made outreach efforts to the group and local Council Member Corey Johnson’s staff to discuss potential concerns.
CB4 gave the organization a list of local people to contact, including block associations, which resulted in those associations having their questions answered and feeling at ease with the new shelter, according to the Coalition for the Homeless announcement.
This spirit of communication also led to a productive appearance by Care For the Homeless at the CB4 Housing, Health, and Human Services Committee in May.
The co-chair of that committee, Maria Ortiz, said that CB4 embraces the area’s history of welcoming social services for those in need. A partnership mentality was adopted, which included the community board agreeing to participate in the 52nd Street Community Advisory Board after the shelter opened.
“By creating this framework of outreach and ongoing communication, it allows stakeholders to share ideas and concerns,” Ortiz said. “Care For the Homeless were willing to invest their time and effort in collaborating with stakeholders and to address concerns.”
George Nashak, executive director of Care For the Homeless, said the group’s experience was the opposite of NIMBY-ism. He noted there is a “current environment of fear of homeless people and intolerance of homeless services,” but said that the community “constructively worked with Care For the Homeless as partners to ensure that our program and the surrounding community can co-exist, understanding that they are participating in improving the lives of our most vulnerable neighbors. The board, staff, and clients of Care For the Homeless will always remember the warm welcome we received.”
Since the shelter opened on Aug. 2, CB4 members have been active in Community Advisory Board meetings and attended open houses. Some have also volunteered, including Delores Rubin, a former CB4 chair. Rubin helped the shelter establish a financial literacy program for women in the shelter, and organized the first session on Oct. 31.
“It’s my way of giving back where I can,” said Rubin, “and this is one way to alleviate the concerns about a growing homeless population. It’s just about whatever capacity someone can give, to create the kind of neighborhood we would want in the event that we were homeless.”
Local officials who congratulated CB4 on the award included State Senator Brad Hoylman and Council Speaker Corey Johnson.
“Community Board 4’s approach is a model for how we should tackle homelessness, which is a humanitarian and affordable housing crisis that is affecting cities from coast to coast,” said Johnson in a statement. “I congratulate Community Board 4 on this much-deserved honor, and I thank them for being a valuable partner in service throughout the years.”