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.