In September we celebrated the 10th anniversary of our St. Nicholas House supportive housing residence in Harlem. Madeline Guzman was an administrative assistant at St. Nicholas House when it opened and she’s now the Property Management and Entitlements Coordinator. Here she reflects on the past 10 years of helping St. Nicholas House’s formerly homeless residents rebuild their lives.
When St. Nicholas House first opened, it was an exciting time. The site had been a vacant lot for 40 years, but it was about to become a place of hope and renewal for formerly homeless New Yorkers.
Our first resident was Ramon. I met him at an open house we held at our Fort Washington Men’s Shelter. He felt hopeless and frustrated that he had been homeless for so long. He applied for a St. Nicholas House apartment, but he didn’t think we were going to pick him. When we called him back for his first interview, he was so excited he could barely talk. He moved in on June 23, 2004. I’m proud to say he is still a resident and an active part of the St. Nicholas House community.
Debbie is another resident who has been living with us for 10 years. She came to St. Nicholas House from our New Providence Women’s Shelter. She was down on her luck and looking for a safe haven where she could turn her life around. I helped her get medical insurance and food stamps, and she went to school to learn a trade. She inspires me because she’s about my age, which showed me that it’s never too late to start anew.
Many of our residents are at the end of their rope when they come to St. Nicholas House. But when I show them their apartment and they sign their lease, they have tears of joy in their eyes. That’s why 25 of our residents have lived here since 2004, and the annual turnover rate is less than five percent. It’s also what makes my job special. I’m part of giving people a second chance. I hope to be working here for many more years.