Shelter garden will help break down the barriers

Cutting the ribbon on the new garden, from left, Susan Stetzer, Rosie Mendez, Gale Brewer, Mitchell Netburn and Joslyn Carter. Photo by Levar Alonzo

BY LEVAR ALONZO | A new community garden at the Third St. Men’s Shelter will now be blossoming for residents and neighbors to enjoy.

On Wed., Oct. 25, Project Renewal — a housing and social charity that combats homelessness on all fronts — celebrated its 50th anniversary with a Halloween-themed street “fall festival” and ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the new community garden, on E. Third St., between the Bowery and Second Ave.

The new green space is a welcome addition to both the surrounding community and the charity’s oldest shelter. Project Renewal and the shelter hope that this new space will bring about a bond between the community and Third St. residents.

“This garden will not just be for the residents, but for the community,” said Mitchell Netburn, C.E.O. of Project Renewal. “They are welcome to come in and help. We all have that image of a homeless person as someone who lives inside a shelter. The garden is here for the community to see people out there, and maybe come inside and talk to them. It just breaks down those barriers.”

Joslyn Carter, administrator of the city’s Department of Homelessness Services, applauded the efforts of Project Renewal in assessing residents’ needs and helping prepare them with skills to have productive lives.

“At Project Renewal, they really look at what a person needs to go back out into the community, and they are good at doing that,” she said. “Giving residents this skill is a benefit to the community, too, so that it is not ‘us against them.’ ”

The garden will help the shelter’s residents with socialization, including those with mental and health issues and limited mobility.

The shelter offers a wide range of health, recovery and job-training services to homeless men with substance-use disorder histories.

“The garden will allow men living at the Third St. Shelter to spend time outdoors, learn to grow and harvest herbs and vegetables and to socialize in a pleasant environment,” Netburn explained.

The space will feature a greenhouse for growing herbs and vegetables, which came to fruition thanks to partnerships between Community Board 3, Project Renewal and D.H.S.

At the ribbon-cutting, C.B. 3 District Manager Susan Stetzer thanked everyone for coming together and making the garden a place neighbors and shelter residents alike can enjoy. She also announced the garden would be getting a new fence soon.

Project Renewal runs a culinary program, in which the men get job training in the industry and also provide food for the shelter residents. When the greenhouse is operational, the culinary students will use its produce in their meal preparation.

Manhattan Borough President and Councilmember Rosie Mendez were at the celebration to show their support for the garden.

According to Netburn, Mendez allocated funding to help complete the garden and was extremely supportive in the process.

In 1991, with the advocacy of neighbors, the Third St. Men’s Shelter became the first homeless shelter contracted by D.H.S. to be run by an outside organization. Prior to Project Renewal’s involvement, the shelter had been a major quality-of-life problem for the area.

“Thanks to the partnerships,” Netburn said, “we turned what was a cold, concrete space into this beautiful green space where residents of the building will get to enjoy the outdoor and programs, like horticultural therapy. We thought it would be appropriate to host a block party to thank the community for 50 years of continued support.”