Hope for LGBTQ Young Adults

LGBTQ young adults who are homeless in New York City have never had housing resources tailored to their needs. But that changed in February, when we proudly opened Marsha’s House, the City’s first shelter to fill this gap and serve LGBTQ individuals ages 18 to 30.

Named for local LGBTQ activist Marsha P. Johnson who died in 1992, Marsha’s House has 81 beds and a wide array of programs to help clients overcome the unique vulnerabilities and discrimination that homeless LGBTQ individuals face. Services include referrals to education and employment programs, group counseling, and healthcare including HIV and transgender care.

Residents of Marsha’s House have access to support services tailored to their needs.

Residents of Marsha’s House have access to support services tailored to their needs.

Our staff is committed to ensuring that each person who comes through our shelter, regardless of their sexual identity or gender, has the full opportunity to renew their life and reclaim hope for the future. If you are interested in getting involved, contact us at volunteer@projectrenewal.org.

Marsha's House is being embraced in the Bronx, and Council Member Ritchie Torres partnered with Project Renewal and the Department of Homeless Services to bring the shelter to his district. “It is well-documented that LGBT homeless youth face extraordinary challenges without many resources available at their disposable," says Torres.  "I’m proud to have partnered with Project Renewal and the City’s Department of Homeless Services to open the City’s first LGBT youth shelter, Marsha’s House, in my district in the Central Bronx. This shelter addresses the need for a safe space for homeless LGBTQ young adults in New York City, a group that experiences homelessness at much higher rates than their straight peers. This shelter can mean the difference between life and death for homeless LGBTQ young adults, who frequently face discrimination and violence. I am grateful that Project Renewal is running Marsha’s House and providing targeted support services for this vulnerable population.”

The Next Step for Michael: Giving Back

Michael has a full-time job, a home, and he looks forward to the future—but that wasn’t always the case.

When he was younger, drug addiction led the Bronx native to homelessness and incarceration. Seven years into his 10-year prison term, optimism gradually overcame his hopelessness. “I started taking it one day at a time, kept myself busy, and got my associate degree.”

After his release in 2016, struggling to find permanent employment, he attended a workforce development workshop. There he learned about Project Renewal’s Next Step Internship Program (NSIP), which provides on-the-job training for unemployed adults interested in homeless services work. The opportunity for a career helping others resonated with him.

Michael found hope through Project Renewal's Next Step Internship Program

Michael found hope through Project Renewal's Next Step Internship Program

Through NSIP, Michael received intensive vocational and life skills training, plus a six-week paid internship at a Project Renewal shelter. “I learned so much in the program and got certifications like Mental Health First Aid, Nonviolent Crisis Intervention, and the F80 Fire Guard Certification,” he says. “I also learned that what you give, you get back.”

Today, he is a Residential Aide at our new Bronx shelter for LGBTQ young adults, the first of its kind in the City. “I make sure our clients get the support they need,” he says proudly. “I tell them their situation is only temporary. Believe me, I know.” In a few years, Michael wants to be an assistant shelter director at Project Renewal—his future is indeed looking bright.

50 Years of Project Renewal: A Conversation with Betty Kiernan

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Project Renewal, we are speaking with clients and staff who have been part of the history of the organization. Read on for our conversation with Betty Kiernan, a founding member of Project Renewal and a staff nurse for nearly 45 years, shares her memories from her time at the organization.

How did Project Renewal get started?

We opened our doors to the detoxification clinic in November of 1967. We would admit men on the Bowery for a five-day medical detox. At that time, it was a full-fledged 24-hour medical unit, with doctors, nurses and social workers.

Men who were living on the Bowery received medical detox treatment at Project Renewal, starting in 1967

Men who were living on the Bowery received medical detox treatment at Project Renewal, starting in 1967

Where did it go from there?

We discovered those who participated in medical detox still needed support after getting sober. Our psychiatrist diagnosed one-third of patients with schizophrenia, so the men who we were working with were very vulnerable. Eventually, we opened an outpatient clinic and provided skill-building workshops. After clients got sober, we would help them get a job.

How did Project Renewal change during your time there?

In 1967, alcoholism had only recently been recognized as a disease, and there was a joint effort across the city to manage public intoxication in a more humane way, rather than with jail time. The programs we offered were voluntary and truly innovative, and we gradually expanded into a big agency. We started doing street outreach, managing shelters, working with women, and more. What has always made Project Renewal special is that we reach so many people who have nowhere else to get help. Project Renewal has adapted to the changing needs of the homeless across the city, and it is a million miles from where we started. The impact that Project Renewal has on the lives of so many New Yorkers is such a tribute to the dedicated people who have been involved over the past 50 years.

Project Renewal Celebrates 50th Anniversary and Raises Over $1.5 Million for Homeless Services at Annual Gala Benefit & Auction

Project Renewal raised over $1.5 million at our 27th Annual Gala Benefit and Auction held June 8 at Spring Studios. The event was a celebration of the 50 years of empowering homeless New Yorkers to renew their lives through comprehensive medical, housing and job programs

Board Member Alan Belzer with honoree Deanna Mulligan

Board Member Alan Belzer with honoree Deanna Mulligan

More than 600 guests—a record for Project Renewal galas—celebrated the 50th anniversary of the organization, which started as the city’s first medical detox clinic on the Bowery in 1967, and has since expanded to serve over 16,000 men, women, and children annually with a wide range of innovative programs. The evening included cocktails, dinner and a live auction. 

“We are delighted to celebrate Project Renewal’s pioneering role in helping homeless New Yorkers renew their lives and reclaim hope over the last 50 years,” said Project Renewal President and CEO Mitchell Netburn. “We are extremely grateful for the generosity of our board members, donors and volunteers. Their support will enable us to expand our work to break the cycle of homelessness for the 16,000 men, women and children we help each year.”

At the event, Project Renewal also honored Deanna Mulligan, President and CEO of Guardian and former member of Project Renewal’s Board of Trustees, who has demonstrated her dedication to ending homelessness in New York City through her generous support of the organization.

“The scope of Project Renewal's programs is unparalleled in New York City, helping hundreds of thousands find housing, healthcare and jobs over the past 50 years,” stated Ms. Mulligan. "I'm honored to be part of the Project Renewal community."

Ms. Mulligan was instrumental in developing a strategic plan for Project Renewal in 1996 that led to the creation of two of the organization’s signature programs: Renewal Farm, a residential addiction treatment program in Garrison, New York; and City Beet Kitchens, a social-purpose catering company that employs formerly homeless, unemployed, and at-risk men and women.

During the gala’s seated program, guests viewed a new film that illustrates the impact Project Renewal has had on the lives of homeless New Yorkers over the last five decades, featuring the stories of three of the organization’s former clients. The film is now available here on Project Renewal’s YouTube channel.

President and CEO Mitchell Netburn with Board chair Claudia Rosen

President and CEO Mitchell Netburn with Board chair Claudia Rosen

The gala’s co-chairs were Thomas and Megan Brodsky. Many organizations generously sponsored the evening, including The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, Morgan Stanley, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, The Johnson Company, BlackRock, Inc., The Brodsky Organization, Capital One Bank, Fisher Brothers, Gerner Kronick + Valcarcel, Architects, Goldberg Lindsay & Co. LLC, Icon Interiors, Lane Office, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, Pershing Square Capital Management, LP, Quality Protection Services and SterlingRisk Insurance.

 

50 Years of Project Renewal: A Conversation with Tedd Leibovitz

Tedd Leibovitz has long struggled with clinical depression, and as a result, he became homeless for a time. Fortunately, Tedd has found safety and security at Project Renewal, as well as a space to display his art photography. Learn more about Tedd’s story in his own words.

Photography by tedd leibovitz

Photography by tedd leibovitz

What problems and struggles were you facing before you came to Project Renewal?

Well, we can start with clinical depression. Undiagnosed and untreated. I was born in 1935. Back then, they couldn't spell it, let alone treat it. The short story is that after 26 years of marriage, it led to divorce, break of my family, loss of friends (sides were taken). I was unable to function and running out of money (economic hard times), which eventually led to eviction from my co-op apartment, and with no safety net left, I went straight into homelessness. 

This lasted approximately 10 months of 1995 into 1996. Eventually, I was found by a social worker, and on Thanksgiving Day, too! He recognized a real case of need in me. He took me to his place of employment on Webster Avenue in the Bronx, a half-way and three-quarter house, until they could put me back together, at least health and food-wise.

After some time there, they hooked me up with Jewish Family Services, where I was able to get the credentials to apply and get into Project Renewal’s Geffner House (then Holland House). These credentials (poverty, homelessness, near suicide), were like what you would need for the Harvard or Yale Club, just 180 degrees the other way.

What kind of support did Project Renewal provide for you? How are they helping you now?

Well, of course, they provided housing. They call it a “Single Room Occupancy.” I call it an apartment. There is definitely a difference for me. One is a dingy room with a 25-watt bulb, broken furniture and cockroaches. The other is a 'warm and welcoming' place of refuge and safety. I've known both and I'll take the latter, which is what I have found at Project Renewal.

The physical space is small, but like Dr. Who's British telephone booth, there’s an infinite universe behind it. I chose Geffner House because they have a social worker and medical backup, which are very important when you have no other safety net. Of course, there are rules and regulations to be followed, some people never get used to it, but still way above the 'great outdoors!'. It's an old building and has just undergone a complete renovation. It's pretty much all done, and it's nice, with new and up-to-date everything. The building is as old as I am and, I think, we're both in pretty good shape.

Tedd Leibovitz

Tedd Leibovitz

I have a small space, but it represents everything I value and need. A/C in summer, new double glazed windows, new bathroom with modern fixtures. As for me, I have an excellent stereo to play the music I need and love, a complete desk top publishing empire for my art photography, and a nice selection of cameras and lenses to go along with it. Although I am on a very limited income, I'm able to parse it out pretty nicely (being a Depression baby does help).

How would you describe your experience with Project Renewal?

The 'worst of times' has now turned into, perhaps, the 'best of times,’ to paraphrase Charles Dickens. I was in a situation of almost near disaster - homeless, from a winter into a summer and into a new winter, with no way out that I could see. When Shakespeare said, the world is a stage and we're all actors in a great play, I don't know if he meant my situation. Actors get to read scripts and eat a good dinner afterwards, and sleep under covers. I didn't have those choices, so my life was much grimmer and perhaps fatal. I would question myself, what would be the final outcome of this disaster that was my life. I had no answer. I finally had some good luck and I grabbed it and held on for dear life, literally. 

Project Renewal and Geffner House were a major player in that desperate time of my life. Because if the social worker had not come upon me and realized I was a real case of despair and near extinction, well, you wouldn't be reading this right now. Maybe somebody else's story. My story still has a ways to go, hopefully, mostly for the good. 

What is your life like now?

In a strange way, I seem to have walked into a life that I always sort of dreamed of (maybe all of us!). I do what I want, when I want and how I want. No obligations, no duties, no outside demands.

I can sleep well and eat pretty much what I want and am in very good health. As a person who has lived most of my aware life with the glass half empty, completely empty or just broken, this is a whole new take for me. Kind of awesome in a way. Live it just pretty much a day at a time. Tomorrow, tomorrow is just 24 hours away! I think I'll just leave it at that.

Can you describe your art and photography? What does your art mean to you and how has it changed your life?

I have been into art all my life. From the time my mother took to drawing lessons in the Cleveland museum of art as a small child. Art has always been a solace and a defense against an often unfriendly world.

The digital camera has become my medium and means of aesthetic expression. It is a wonderful and super toy for the little boy side of me. It takes me out on long walks to seek out new photos to be used on my computer to turn into aesthetic pictures. Then I work on the craft of digital printing; a whole study in itself. These pictures go up wherever I have free wall space. They are even on my floor. This tends to make me all open and friendly and I talk to all kinds of people very easily.

This is an almost complete change in my personality from the earlier and greater part of my life, where I could and would use my tongue like a whip if someone irritated me, and it didn't take much to do that. This whole process, from talk therapy, to having anti-depressive and mood stabilizing drugs, to taking leave of most stressful relationships and becoming my own man, perhaps for the first time in my life, has really done wonders for me, inside and out. I would just like it to continue as long as it can. Better late than never. Best of luck in your lives to all of you, Tedd Leibovitz.

50 Years of Project Renewal: A Conversation with Marc Moses

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Project Renewal, we are speaking with clients and staff who have been part of the history of the organization. Read on for our conversation with artist and former client, Marc Moses, who found hope at Project Renewal after his struggle with addiction.

 What problems were you facing before you came to Project Renewal?

 I had been evicted from my apartment, which was a direct result of my addiction to crack cocaine over the previous seven or eight years. I was initially sent to a shelter in Brooklyn. While I was there, I got help for my drug problem. I had managed to stay away from cocaine for two months prior, and I think the guy helping me could see I was quite serious about getting clean. He told me there was a space in a shelter on the Lower East Side, but it was hard to get in, so I'd better get there quickly. I didn't hesitate in the least. That’s how I ended up at Project Renewal’s Third Street Men’s Shelter in the late winter of 2003.

What type of support did you receive from Project Renewal?

The case managers supported me right away and were very hands-on, helping me acclimate to the shelter and access mental health care resources. I was able to get help for my depression. They really show a sincere concern for their clients. After about a year at the Third Street Shelter, they set me up with an apartment at In Homes Now.

The art resources at the Third Street had a lot to do with changing my feelings about myself and the future. It took me a little while before I began to explore the art room, both because I was deeply depressed but also because I had always been intimidated by the idea of working with color. I had always been reluctant to move beyond the simple binary world of black and white. Gradually, however, I began to challenge my inhibition and was surprised to discover that I had an entirely unexpected ability for using color and a talent mixing paints to match specific hues.

By Marc Moses

By Marc Moses

How has support from Project Renewal changed your life?

Exploration in the art room and encouragement from the Project Renewal staff helped me to see that I could be successful. The case workers and mental health services gave me a different perspective on how things could be, and Project Renewal sent me on the path that I wouldn’t have found otherwise. In terms of my art, I was very lucky that I was able to get into shows, and I had number of pieces sell through the Project Renewal Gala, so they continued to support me in that way.

Next Generation of Project Renewal Supporters

When sisters Jasmine, 9, and Angelina, 11, noticed a homeless shelter in their neighborhood, they were moved to tears—and to take action. They held a holiday bake sale, raising $675 for Project Renewal.

“We looked it up, and learned there are thousands of homeless people and children in New York,” says Angelina. In response, the sisters held the bake sale in Bay Ridge to support Project Renewal. The sisters say they are proud of the money they raised to support the homeless in New York City, but no one is more proud than their mother, Jenn. “As a parent, it taught me a lesson,” says Jenn. “It taught me to pay more attention to the issue of homelessness, and to think about how we can all help.”

Jasmine and Angelina deliver their check to Deputy Director, Stephanie Cowles

Jasmine and Angelina deliver their check to Deputy Director, Stephanie Cowles

Second graders from P.S. 59 in Manhattan also contributed to Project Renewal, creating ‘Renewal Kits’ with their classmates. The kits contained personal care items and snacks, as well as heartfelt cards, which lifted the spirits of mobile medical van clients over the holidays.

The generosity of these young supporters is truly inspiring to Project Renewal staff and clients. Keep up the good work!

City Beet Kitchens Offers Formerly Homeless New Yorkers Rewarding Careers and Purpose

CBK Final Logo converted jpg.jpg

Project Renewal runs City Beet Kitchens, a social enterprise catering business dedicated to preparing and serving delicious food while helping New York City’s homeless, low-income, and unemployed residents renew their lives.

Every order with City Beet Kitchens provides a life-changing opportunity — a career path with a living wage, benefits, and growth prospects — to a New Yorker in need. The company’s staff members are graduates of Project Renewal’s award-winning Culinary Arts Training Program which provides intensive training in the kitchen, followed by a six-week internship at a restaurant or corporate dining services company, and job placement.

“All of our staff members are passionate about what they do,” said Barbara Hughes, Director of Food Services at Project Renewal and Co-founder and Director of the Culinary Arts Training Program. “We’re not just a catering company; we help New Yorkers get back on their feet. Our food is prepared with love and appreciation, for New Yorkers by New Yorkers.”

City Beet Kitchens is focused on providing customers with fresh, high quality food and a personalized service. The thoughtfully designed menu includes dishes specifically tailored for every kind of New Yorker — from gluten-free, low-fat, and vegan options to one-of-a-kind dishes for foodies that love to experiment.

City Beet Kitchens caters to a wide variety of events in and around New York City, preparing continental breakfasts and lunches for office meetings and gourmet dinners for intimate gatherings, as well as catering for parties, cocktail receptions, and weddings.

Project Renewal’s Culinary Arts Training Program (CATP) places graduates in jobs at twice the rate of similar programs nationwide. “I fell in love with the program — it helped me a lot,” said Jamel Woods, a CATP graduate and Sous-Chef at City Beet Kitchens. “This job keeps my head straight; it keeps me focused and off the streets. I love being here. It gave me a whole new set of goals.”

Project Renewal’s social purpose catering company was previously named Comfort Foods. Since 1997, Comfort Foods prepared meals for New York City nonprofit institutions and catered to private parties, office meetings and corporate events for clients such as Capital One and Morgan Stanley.

“Capital One has enjoyed catering from Project Renewal for volunteer projects, boardroom meetings and associate events,” said Jessa Thomas, Community Affairs, Capital One. “Our associates believe in the mission of Project Renewal, and City Beet Kitchens is a true testament of life changing opportunity. All that aside, the food speaks for itself and always receives rave reviews.”

For more information about City Beet Kitchens, visit www.citybeetkitchens.org and follow @CityBeetNYC on Twitter. To learn about Project Renewal’s Culinary Arts Training Program, visit www.projectrenewal.org/catp.

Project Renewal's Next Step Internship Program Wins NYCETC Workforce Innovation Award

On November 16, Project Renewal's Next Step Internship Program (NSIP) received the Workforce Innovation Award from the NYC Employment and Training Coalition (NYCETC). The honor was part of NYCETC's 2016 Opportunity Awards, which recognize programs and services striving to ensure that every New Yorker has access to the skills, training, and education needed to thrive in the local economy.

NSIP provides on-the-job training for unemployed men and women interested in homeless services work. After intensive vocational and life skills classes, participants complete a six-week paid internship at a shelter. Successful interns are given a priority for competitive employment at their internship site and receive follow-up support services. Since many of our interns have overcome homelessness themselves, they are uniquely qualified to help and inspire the shelter residents they serve.

Click here to watch Fox 5 New York's story on NSIP.

“I see more now. I see the future.” - Jamel’s Story

Jamel at city beet kitchens

Jamel at city beet kitchens

“I look back at my family. My son’s face. My baby mother’s face. I can’t do this to them again.”

Jamel is a large man with a broad smile. His voice has a lightness to it that is pleasant, almost intoxicating.

I ask him to share his story.

“When I was in my twenties, before I was with Project Renewal, I was incarcerated for criminal possession with a weapon. Hanging around with the wrong people. Making the wrong decisions.” He considers his own statement for a second. “Wrong decisions can feel like the fun decisions at the time.”

And then: “Five years, I was in there.”

          I ask him when things turned around for him.

“Pretty much first day I got out on bail.”

What happened then?

“I got to look back at my family. My son’s face. My baby mother’s face. I told myself, ‘I can’t do this to them again.’”

How’d you get through it?

“I did a lot of working out, lot of cooking. Got my LTCA (Limited Time Credit Allowance). They take 6 months off of your sentence for good behavior. It sounds easy but in jail anything can happen. If I was to go to jail again…” He didn’t finish his sentence.

“I ended up getting out in May 2014, instead of November 2014. Didn’t want to tell anyone. I wanted everyone to be surprised. I wanted them to be like, ‘Oh snap, you home?’”

           We both laugh. I ask him what was the next move.

    “I was working through a mandatory drug program and anger management classes. Got a job at a furniture store. Was working over there for six days straight. Lady fired me because I was too slow. She said, ‘I’ll call you.’  Whatever that means…

“After that, a friend I was locked up with told me about the organization.”

Project Renewal?

“Yeah. I met with them, told them I wanted to be an electrician.”

Why an electrician?

“Electricians make a lot of money.”

That’s a good enough reason.

“But we got talking and they asked me what I liked to do. I said, ‘I do a lot of cooking.’ They asked if I wanted to work in the kitchen. ‘I’ll give it a shot,’ I said.

“Working in the catering department? Best thing in my life. I’m the only guy who came everyday, so they hired me. I’m growing. I’m learning everyday. I’m a sous chef now, up on 42nd street.”

What do you like to make?

“I like platters, salads. I love hors d'oeuvres. They take a lot of time and patience, but they taste so good. And I love the environment. Working with Chef Anthony, Eddie, Isaac. Part of me loving my job is loving my coworkers. If things get hectic, we find a way to work it out together.

“When I went into jail, my son was one. He was six when I got back. That’s not something I want to go through again. I think we all have moments where we can change. I had a lot of moments to change and say ‘I’m not going back to that.’”

He smiles. “I see more, now. I see the future.”

- Dan Foley

 

Jamel is the sous-chef at City Beet Kitchens, Project Renewal’s social purpose catering company that employs formerly homeless and unemployed men and women who have graduated from our award-winning Culinary Arts Training Program.

Join us in the fight against homelessness and order from City Beet Kitchens for your next corporate meeting, cocktail reception, wedding, or special event.

Visit www.citybeetkitchens.org.

"Why are you homeless" - Frank's story

“My life was a trainwreck. There was no love in my family. No father-son talk. No mother-son talk. So I would go out and find people who were like me.”

Renewal Farm needs your support to help more men like Frank. To donate, visit http://www.supportrenewalfarm.causevox.com.

Frank is a strong man with piercing blue eyes. When he speaks, he speaks in short sentences. Straightforward, clear, and without any illusions.  

“I’m Irish, from an Irish family,” he introduces himself. “Born and raised in Staten Island. Two brothers. Two sisters. I’m the oldest.”

I ask him what brought him to the farm.

He wipes the sweat from his forehead. He’s still wearing the gloves from gardening. “I was abused when I was a kid and all that stuff. Sexually abused. Mentally abused. Come from an alcoholic family they really didn’t care that much. Me being the oldest of my brothers and sister, I always looked after them, made sure they didn’t go through the things I went through.”

“I’m forty-one,” he continues, although he looks a lot younger. “Lost a lot of my childhood. That’s a lot of what I’ve been working on since I've been here.”

How did it start?

“I started using alcohol at an early age. Actually, my father introduced it to me. You get a toothache? Used to put alcohol on my teeth. Since then, I was attracted to it. It took away the pain, hid a lot of that pain.”

He takes off his gloves. “My life was a trainwreck. There was no love in my family. No father-son talk. No mother-son talk. So I would go out and find people who were like me. I was attracted to people using alcohol and doing drugs.”

What about your life now?

“I got two little boys, a little boy who’s twelve and one who’s eight. I always told myself I wouldn’t put them through what I went through. It comes down to the fact that I made those choices to choose alcohol over my life…”

He smiles. “But..I’ve learned a lot here. And it’s time to break that cycle.”

“I chose to come here. And it’s awesome. Just working on this farm is great. I take pride in what I do. Like I said, my history? I touch base on a lot of things in my history. These guys here are like my new family.”

“Working on the farm is great. When I plant the seed in the ground, it’s like new life, watching it grow. See what it comes out to. To me it’s beautiful.”

He looks around the farm. “I got God in my life today. I truly believe God works through other people, things, nature, whatever it is. When I go back out to society…”

He laughs. “Before this place, I was uncomfortable with myself. I’m a loner. I like to stay by myself. I saw you coming and I was like, ‘Oh no, he’s going to want to talk.’”

We both laugh.

“It’s an experience for me,” he continues. “If you don’t properly take care of the plants and vegetables, they’re going to wither away. I feel like it’s myself and my life. If I don’t constantly take care of my life and my things, I’ll wither away.”

“I always thought you had to have money, the nicest house. But just planting something, I take so much pride in it. I’m very grateful to be here. I’m actually thinking about staying out here. Once I fixed my attitude, the way I look at things…”

He doesn’t finish his sentence. He just smiles.

Frank has seen the radical change that Project Renewal can have on rehabilitation. And he’s not alone. Men of all walks of life pass through Renewal Farm on their road to recovery and a new life. However, due to recent budget cuts, Renewal Farm is losing funding. It’s our hope that, through the Why are You Homeless? campaign, more New Yorkers will come to understand that anyone can become homeless.

You can help support Project Renewal through donations. But we appreciate it just as much if you sign up to learn more about us or like us on Facebook. Check back next week for another eye-opening story about homelessness in the city. In the meantime, keep your eyes and hearts open.

- Dan Foley

"Why are you homeless?" - Tyler’s story

“I went to law school. That’s where my heroin problem got really bad. I almost finished. Had one class left.”

Renewal Farm needs your support to help more men like Tyler. To donate, visit http://www.supportrenewalfarm.causevox.com.

To say that Tyler is not my idea of the typical homeless man is an understatement. It’s not his age or race so much as it is his demeanor. He’s refined, charming, articulate. He reminds me of one of my college buddies.  

I ask him what he’s doing here.

“I grew up in Albany, went to college in Buffalo. That’s where I started doing drugs...I did well in school. Got into heroin over there. There’s a lot that comes through Toronto.” His eyes are squinting as he looks towards the sun.

“After college I worked as a case manager. Didn’t really like it. I went to law school. That’s where my heroin problem got really bad. I almost finished. Had one class yet.”

“I was using heroin every day—it’s not good, as it turns out.” He laughs. I smile, surprised at his candor. “The stress and being overwhelmed by it and 12 hours a day of work...I felt like I deserved to feel good.”

His face tightens up. “I kind of just collapsed at the end there. I became homeless...I didn’t have my apartment anymore. I stayed with friends, stayed at the shelter, I stayed with my girlfriend at the time, but I wasn’t getting any better. I didn’t know how to get better. She said you need to leave, you need to get help somewhere.”

So what did you do?

“I looked for a rehab, even though I did so begrudgingly. I wanted a therapy community, not a community that just yells at you, tells you that you screwed up.”

“I stayed with my uncle for a while. He’s a doctor and a professor at Dartmouth. He found out about this place, St. Christopher's and the Project Renewal Farm. He said this is your best bet.”

“I thought 90 days was an eternal amount of time. I was withdrawing from heroin and that wasn’t good.” His expression doesn’t change. “I didn’t know anything about addiction. I thought I was just screwed up and weak for doing it all. I learned a lot about addiction. I learned why I was doing what I was doing.”

“I have high blood pressure for a 26-year-old...the blood pressure of a 90-year-old...I don’t know what.” This time when he laughs, his mouth opens all the way. It’s contagious. I laugh too.

“They’re helping me finish school. I start my final class of law school next week. They help me with subway tickets and train tickets. I have a firm, sober foundation. Every day I’m going to come back here.”

His face firms up again. “I still have some problems, I don’t talk to my father.”

“But the farm’s been good. I’ve never really done this stuff before. At first I hated it because it’s repetitive. But now I find it meditative. I have to stay present. It’s what I needed.”

“When I got here, it was cold and I was planting seeds like...what’s the point? But now the plants are coming. It chills you out, being around plants that grow super slow. Plus,” he adds, cracking a smile. “Farming is a good thing to know. If there was a zombie apocalypse, and we had to start anew, I’d know what to do.”

Tyler has seen the radical change the Project Renewal can have on rehabilitation. And he’s not alone. Men of all walks of life pass through Renewal Farm on their road to recovery and a new life. However, due to recent budget cuts, Renewal Farm is losing funding. It’s our hope that, through the "Why Are You Homeless?" campaign, more New Yorkers will come to understand that anyone can become homeless.

You can help support Project Renewal through donations. But we appreciate it just as much if you just sign up to learn more about us or like us on Facebook. Check back next week for another eye-opening story about homelessness in the city. In the meantime, keep your eyes and heart open.

Dan Foley

"Why are you homeless?" - Fredly's story

“As you learn to groom the earth, you’re learning to groom yourself. This whole experience, it saved my life.”

“As you learn to groom the earth, you’re learning to groom yourself. This whole experience, it saved my life.”

Renewal Farm needs your support to help more men like Fredly. To donate, visit http://www.supportrenewalfarm.causevox.com.

Fredly is tall, well over six feet, and strong. His presence would be intimidating if it weren’t for his voice. He sounds more like a scholar than a homeless man.

He’s watering the plants when I meet him. I come up and shake his hand. He starts to tell me about himself.

“I’m one of eleven, the youngest, I’m thirty-four now,” he begins. “From Rockland County. Father had me when he was fifty and my mother was forty.”

He takes off his gloves and dusts them off. “Father’s an alcoholic, and he was pretty abusive. My household was secretive. Strict religious on the outside. But inside? Very chaotic, lot of shame and guilt. Lot of ignorance...Everything was always fear based.

“I didn’t feel comfortable with my family,” he laughs. “I remember wishing I was adopted.

“My first time consuming anything was when I was six or seven, but in my culture, when you were sick, you put a little rum on your tongue. So alcohol and drugs always put me in a place of comfort.”

I ask when things started to turn.

“By the time I was thirteen, I was kicked out of the house. Completely rebelled, so I was able to do more alcohol and drugs.”

Even though it’s still early, the sun is beating down. Fredly is covered in sweat. He wipes his head. “My whole life was trying to portray one side of myself to society, while isolating myself and being in a real dark place in reality.”

“I dropped out of high school. I thought I was unworthy.” He accentuates the final word of the sentence. “I only surrounded myself with the same negative behaviors that I shared. I was very manipulative. I sold drugs, I used drugs, I’ve been convicted of a felony…”

I ask him if he ever tried to turn it around.

“I tried to go back to school, but I had to drop out. I was going to college for pharmacy. But you can’t have a felony in the healthcare profession.”

He sighs. “I have a nine-year-old daughter. I was in a ten-year relationship. Not being home with the family, not answering the phone, being out. Lot of stress, lot of confusion. Family couldn’t understand my addiction. When they seen me, they seen a kid that had potential, that was smart, but couldn’t see why my life was so unmanageable...I couldn’t see why my life was so unmanageable.”

I ask him about Project Renewal.

“Psychedelics and alcohol led me here, but I haven’t touched drugs and alcohol in some time. I’m on a whole spiritual trip.”

He smiles. “This place taught me to love and respect myself. Lack of faith...this place kind of gives me hope, showed me that life is beyond material. There’s more to life. You can’t isolate yourself. When you isolate yourself, that’s where you go to the dark, dark, place. That’s where the disease starts.

“I was raised on the streets, now I feel like I’m in tune with nature. I feel like it’s symbolic. As you learn to groom the earth, you’re learning to groom yourself. I love it, I love it, this whole experience. It saved my life.”

I ask him if he’s close to the guys in the program.

“We’re all brothers. It creates an overwhelming experience. Sometimes you have brothers who love you more than you love yourself...they love you until you learn to love yourself.

“Before, for me to have I fun, I used to think I just needed money, drugs, and women. I was lacking that spirituality...but when you start to feel it, that higher power, that spirituality, that love...you start to feel that you’re feeding your spirit.

“Life is all about connections. The disease is all about isolation. It’s a daily struggle, but it’s also a daily blessing. So much has been given to me, I just want to give something back.”

Fredly has seen the radical change Project Renewal can have on rehabilitation. And he’s not alone. Men of all walks of life pass through the Renewal Farm on their road to recovery and a new life.  However, due to recent budget cuts, Renewal Farm is losing funding. It’s our hope that, through the "Why are you Homeless" campaign, more New Yorkers will come to understand that anyone can become homeless.

You can help support Project Renewal through donations. But we appreciate it just as much if you just sign up to learn more about us or like us on Facebook. Check back next week for another eye-opening story about homelessness in the city. In the meantime, keep your eyes and heart open.

- Dan Foley

 

"Why are you homeless?" - Mike's story

“Things are going to get better. Can’t get any worse. Dead or in jail. Other people got it worse...little by little, it gets better.”

“Things are going to get better. Can’t get any worse. Dead or in jail. Other people got it worse...little by little, it gets better.”

Mike stares down at the desk, gathering his thoughts. Then he raises his shaved head slightly and makes eye contact. 

“Just got back from Pennsylvania,” he tells me. “I was working there the last six months.”

Doing what?

“Factory jobs. I was in the carpenters’ union from 2003-2012 but since then I’ve just been working factory jobs. Stuff got tough in 2012. Been in and out of the shelter...and that was about it.”

His eyes return to the desk.

What about before that?

“Back after 9/11, I took training in a remedial hazardous waste remediation course. All that anthrax and asbestos. One of the instructors was a delegate and put me into the union. Just recently I was working at Amazon, as a seasonal employee, down in a Pennsylvania factory. But after the holiday season, they let me go.”

Then what’s next?

“Plan is to save up a little money, head out to Pennsylvania, rent out an apartment. They pay good, like $15 an hour. You can rent a place for like $600-$700 a month. House is $750.”

His eyes shift from the desk to mine, then back again.

“I’ve been in and out of the system since 2012. I’ll be in for a couple months, find a little place, lose a job, be back in for a bit. Had a few good years there, then it got tough.”

What happened back in 2012?

“Had a death in the family, got depressed. Got suspended from the union...I was between a rock and a hard place. I stayed at my grandma’s place, because she had just died. Stayed there for a year until the government came to repossess it.

“I wasn’t doing anything wrong, I wasn’t working non-union. I just wasn’t getting the work. It’s my fault for not going out and getting it, but if you’re not working 1,200 hours they suspend you.”

And what was life like after that?

He motions to his bag. “My bag weighs like sixty pounds. I’d start down on Broadway, go up to 40th street. Stop here, stop there. People telling you no. It gets tough.” He straightens out his back and says solemnly: “If it wasn’t for this, I’d be out on the street. God knows what you have to do. You have to break the law to survive. With this, at least you can wait for something good to happen.”

Why the shelter though. Do you have any family?

“I’m from Brooklyn...I have family around. But they’re living their own life. It wouldn’t be right for me to impose on them. They’re working hard every day. It was my own fault for feeling sorry for myself, for being lazy, being depressed. I should have went and found somebody to talk to, but I just inverted. I was a hermit.”

Do they know you’re here?

“I have an uncle I’m close with. He fixes cars. I help him, watch him. Clean up the tools. He knows my situation. He gave me an opportunity to come live with him, but I told him I’ll do it on my own. I’ll be alright.” A semblance of a one-sided smile forms on ‘alright.’ Then eyes back to the desk.

“My grandmother...she doesn’t want me to be sad, she don’t want me be a negative person. She wants me to do the right thing and make a happy life for myself.. So I just keep that in mind. My parents are in Florida, my little brother just bought a house. Once I get on my feet, I’ll get a house up the street.”

“Things are going to get better. Can’t get any worse. Little by little, it gets better.”

I nod. It can get better. That’s what we’re trying to help with Project Renewal.

There are tens of thousands of homeless people living in New York City. Many of them have stories just like his. It’s our hope that, through the Why Are You Homeless? campaign, more New Yorkers will come to understand that anyone can become homeless.

You can help people like Mike. Project Renewal runs, in part, on donations, but we appreciate it just as much if you just sign up to learn more about us or like us on Facebook. Check back next week for another eye-opening story about homelessness in the city. In the meantime, keep your eyes and heart open.

"Why are you homeless?" - Jamie's story

“I came into drug scene late, in my 20’s. I made a lot of mistakes. I just turned 46. As I look back, I wish i didn’t make those mistakes, but in helping others and giving back to the community, I feel good.”

“I came into drug scene late, in my 20’s. I made a lot of mistakes. I just turned 46. As I look back, I wish i didn’t make those mistakes, but in helping others and giving back to the community, I feel good.”

Jamie has wide eyes and an other-worldly smile. He speaks slowly.

“Originally from Newark,” he starts. His mouth hangs open during pauses while he thinks. “Things weren’t working out for me because I was heavily into drugs, sleeping in the streets...you know. Taking chances.”

He smiles. “I came up with a plan, hustled up enough money, came to NYC.”

How did you get here?

“Project Renewal gave me their card, they picked me up. I became a resident here, been here almost 15 months. I’m in the last stage, where they help you look for apartments.”

But why NYC?

“I tried in Jersey to see if they had anything, but they didn’t have any programs, I talked to my Mom, told her they have a lot of help in New York. Thank God I was able make that first move and come here blind,” Then, to further explain: “I used to have one jacket, now I have several.”

What about work?

“I’m not allowed to work, because I suffered an injury in my back, which is deteriorating. The bones never fused back together. I have osteoporosis in that area, 3 fractures in the lumbar region. They’re either going to put a plastic insert in or hope that my body doesn’t reject a cadaver donor...THEN I’LL BE ABLE TO WORK!” He nearly yells.

Then he goes quiet again. “Because of the therapy, I can’t lift anything over 10 pounds. Sometimes I bend over to pick up something and the sciatica kicks in.”

A wry smile forms.“I play handball even though I’m not supposed to.”

We laugh.

“I like to watch the soccer games that they play at the park - or the tai chi, it’s like a dance or karate or something. These men and women are older, way older, but they’re so lively…”

He stares off into the distance with his mouth partially open. His face shifts. He turns back to me.

“I came into drug scene late,” he reminisces. “In my 20’s, I made a lot of mistakes. I just turned 46. As I look back, I wish i didn’t make those mistakes, but in helping others and giving back to the community...I feel good.”

He smiles again. “It’s working out.”

How are you helping give back?

“I’m just a regular guy, trying to help out. I try to be the voice for them, be the voice for what they need.”

What do you mean?

“I’m Puerto Rican, so I help out with the Spanish translation around here. I help the staff out a lot. I’m probably the eighth person who’s been here the longest. I know everyone’s name. At outpatient care, I set up the chairs, get the coffee going, pick the morale up.”

He gives a final grin. “The guys look up to me as one of the older guys here.”

There are tens of thousands of homeless people living in New York City. Many of them have stories just like his. It’s our hope that, through the Why Are You Homeless? campaign, more New Yorkers will come to understand that anyone can become homeless.

You can help people like Steve. Project Renewal runs, in part, on donations, but we appreciate it just as much if you just sign up to learn more about us or like us on Facebook. Check back next week for another eye-opening story about homelessness in the city. In the meantime, keep your eyes and heart open.

- Dan Foley

 

 

"Why are you homeless?" - Steve's story

Steve’s eyes are tired but focused. He tells me to open the drawer next to me. Inside sits a collection of skilled pencil sketches. I pull out the top one. It’s a profile of a nameless superhero.  

I tell him it’s pretty good.

“I was one of the first people of color to work for Marvel,” he says in a raspy voice.

Marvel Comics?

Steve doesn’t nod, but his eyes remain focused, looking past me. “I know Stan Lee personally—I went to Jack Kirby’s funeral. Back in those days, DC didn’t hire people of color.”

I look at the sketch again. You must have practiced a lot, I say.

“I never practice, I just put my brain to paper,” he says.

Steve is 83 years old, although I wouldn’t have put him a day over 60. In the first minute of our conversation, he runs through his life story like he’s checking boxes.

“Came here in 1936 from Cuba...graduated high school...joined the Navy, fought in the Korean War. Got married. My wife passed away from breast cancer in 1969. Got 7 Kids, 14 grandkids, great grandkids…”

I asked how he could be homeless with his background.

“It’s a series of events...some too personal to mention.” His expression doesn’t change, but the subject does.

“I believe in respect,” he says. “Respect rolls two ways. If you want it, demand it, you must give it. There’s rules you follow.”

He pauses. “I’ve spent some time in prison. It’s not a badge of courage, it’s a badge of stupidity...but you learn and you move on.”

I ask him about the shelter.

“It’s damn expensive to live in New York,” he says. “With these vampire landlords.”

I laugh.

“Homeless is at an all time high,” he continues. “We live in the greatest city...in the greatest country on earth, but there’s almost 60,000 homeless out there. It makes the the country look bad. It makes people not want to care...It used to be just people of color, now it’s everybody...you’ve got seniors out there like me, freezing to death.

“But the trick is to work with the system, not against it. If you feel you’re being trampled on, use this.” He points to his head.

“You come into the shelter system with hopes to be self-sufficient. It doesn’t always happen that way...but I’ll be out of here by spring. The goal is moving forward–-meet with the right people.

“Maybe my comments, my thoughts can motivate others.”

He collects himself. We’re silent for a few seconds.

What are you doing in the meantime?

“I’m doing art. If I’m not doing art, I’m reading.” He motions towards one of the posters he’s created for Project Renewal on the wall.

“Project Renewal’s one of the best organizations in the city, but it needs help

Like Steve said, there are tens of thousands of homeless people living in New York City. Many of them have stories just like his. It’s our hope that, through the Why Are You Homeless? campaign, more New Yorkers will come to understand that anyone can become homeless.

You can help people like Steve. Project Renewal runs, in part, on donations, but we appreciate it just as much if you just sign up to learn more about us or like us on Facebook. Check back next week for another eye-opening story about homelessness in the city. In the meantime, keep your eyes and heart open.

- Dan Foley

 

New York City Homeless, Formerly Homeless, and At-Risk Individuals Graduate From Successful Jobs Program

Next Step Internship Program March 2016 Graduates

Next Step Internship Program March 2016 Graduates

The Next Step Internship Program (NSIP), a groundbreaking program launched in 2014 by Project Renewal, hosted a graduation ceremony for 12 students on Thursday, March 31, 2016 at Project Renewal’s Next Step Program, 200 Varick Street, 9th Floor, New York, NY10014. Through an innovative model of classroom learning and paid on-the-job training, NSIP prepares homeless, formerly homeless, and at-risk individuals for entry-level positions in the social service sector, including homeless shelters.

In its first two years, NSIP has had twice the success rate of similar programs nationwide — 76 percent of NSIP graduates found job placement within six months of graduating (vs. 36 percent nationwide) and over 70 percent are still employed after a year. Project Renewal has over 20 years of experience managing workforce programs for homeless individuals, and attributes NSIP’s success to two key factors: small class sizes and internships.

“A large part of why our program is successful is that our extensive training prepares students for the real world through practical experience. Most of our students were once homeless themselves — this makes them uniquely qualified to work in shelters,” said Project Renewal’s President and CEO Mitchell Netburn.

The program is turning around the lives of New Yorkers like Secilly Aviles, a 26-year-old formerly homeless mother of three, who graduated last month. Through NSIP, Aviles interned at Project Renewal’s Third Street Men’s Shelter in Manhattan, where her experience readied her for a full-time position with opportunities for advancement.

NSIP builds students’ skills in crisis prevention, computer use, conflict management, and dealing with individuals suffering from addiction or mental health issues, and provides life skills — like financial management and effective communication.  The program also provides participants with certifications in F-02 Fire Guard for Shelters, Nalaxone Administration, and Nonviolent Crisis Intervention Training.  All graduates receive job placement support.

Fore more information about Project Renewal's Next Step Internship Program, visit http://www.projectrenewal.org/jobs

Aging Out of Foster Care and Into the Kitchen

A graduate of Our NewEst Culinary Arts TRAINING PROGRAM with program director Barbara Hughes

A graduate of Our NewEst Culinary Arts TRAINING PROGRAM with program director Barbara Hughes

Project Renewal is offering a new track of our award-winning Culinary Arts Training Program to young men and women who are aging out of foster care—a population that faces disproportionately high risks of unemployment and homelessness in their adult lives.

The new course, offered at our Fletcher Residence supportive housing building in the Bronx, serves New Yorkers ages 18 to 24 who are in need of career training options and college alternatives. Participants are recruited and receive an initial eight-week course in employment readiness skills by Catholic Guardian Services, a nonprofit that offers an array of social services to vulnerable youth and families. 

The program consists of six weeks of intensive training in the kitchen, followed by a mandatory six-week internship at a restaurant, catering company or corporate dining services. Students learn cooking, baking, catering, and nutrition; and they graduate ready to take on careers in the culinary industry.

“With the success of our Culinary Arts Training Program, we were looking for ways to expand to help meet the needs of more New Yorkers,” said Barbara Hughes, co-founder and Director of the Culinary Arts Training Program at Project Renewal. “When Catholic Guardian Services approached us seeking food service training for their clients, we recognized the positive impact our program could have on these young adults.”

According to the New York City Public Advocate’s Office, of the nearly 1,000 people who age out of the foster care system annually, 80 percent are on their own—dealing with vital needs like housing, employment, healthcare, and education. Fifty percent struggle with unemployment and 18 to 26 percent live in homeless shelters.

Our Culinary Arts Training Programwhich first launched in Manhattan in 1995, serving New Yorkers who had struggled with homelessness, addiction and unemploymentplaces graduates in jobs at twice the rate of similar programs nationwide. In 2013, the program won one of the "Top 10 Innovative Nonprofit Awards" from New York City’s Center for Economic Opportunity.

“With Project Renewal’s Culinary Arts Training Program, we saw an opportunity to expand our workforce development program for individuals formerly in or aging out of the foster care system,” said Ann McCabe, Catholic Guardian Services’ Assistant Executive Director for Child Welfare Services. “Thanks to Project Renewal, not only are these young adults getting the training they need, but also job placement assistance.”

The first students to complete this new track of the Culinary Arts Training Program in the Bronx graduated on March 3, 2016.

For more information about our Culinary Arts Training Program, visit www.projectrenewal.org/catp.

For more information about Catholic Guardian Services, visit: www.catholicguardian.org/.