"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

 

12 Must-Know Facts about Women and Homelessness

  1. Among industrial nations, the US has the largest number of homeless women and the highest number on record since the Great Depression. 1
  2. An estimated 50% of all homeless people are women. 2
  3. Up to 92% of homeless women have experienced severe sexual or physical assault at some point in their lives. 3
  4. 57% of homeless women cite sexual or domestic violence as the direct cause of their homelessness. 1
  5. 63% have been victims of violence from an intimate partner. 3
  6. 32% have been assaulted by their current or most recent partner. 3 

  7. 50% of homeless women experience a major depressive episode after becoming homeless. 1
  8. Homeless women have three times the normal rate of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. 1
  9. Homeless women are twice as likely to have drug and alcohol dependencies. 1
  10. Homeless women between 18 to 44 years old are 5 to 31 times more likely to die than women in the general population. 4
  11. Homeless women in their mid-fifties are as physiologically aged as housed women in their seventies. 1
  12. Victims of domestic violence experience major barriers in obtaining and maintaining housing and often return to their abusers because they cannot find long-term housing. 5

 

 



NOTES

1. Colorado Coalition for the Homeless: http://www.coloradocoalition.org/!userfiles/TheCharacteristicsofHomelessWomen_lores3.pdf

2. Homeless Women & Children: The Problem and the Solution http://voices.yahoo.com/homeless-women-children-problem-solution-368646.html

3. National Alliance to end Homelessness http://www.endhomelessness.org/pages/domestic_violence

4. Homelessness in the United States: History, Epidemiology, Health Issues, Women, and Public Policy Med Scape http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/481800 

5. A. Correia, Housing and Battered Women: A Case Study of Domestic Violence Programs in Iowa (Harrisburg: National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, 1999) accessed via "The Dangerous Shortage of Domestic Violence Services"




Day trips, guest speakers, even crossword puzzles

At Project Renewal, honoring Black History Month Takes on Many Forms.

 An Underground Railroad themed Papier-mâché community “quilt” assembled from individual panels created by staff and residents of Geffner House to celebrate Black History Month.

An Underground Railroad themed Papier-mâché community “quilt” assembled from individual panels created by staff and residents of Geffner House to celebrate Black History Month.

Most of the people that Project Renewal serves are engaged in putting the pieces back together and moving on to renewed lives.  It can entail daily--sometimes even hour by hour-- focus and struggle. Yet even so, staff and residents alike throughout our 16 sites and numerous programs are finding time and ways, this month, to honor, recognize, observe and celebrate black history.

In some cases, like at Renewal House, our transitional housing program for men recovering from substance abuse, observance is a grassroots thing, initiated by the residents themselves. “We noticed that a lot of our people were very interested in it this year,” reports Renewal House Assistant Director Monica Diaz. In response, she hung posters and biographies of notable African Americans from Marcus Garvey to Malcolm X on the walls, and added  black history as a running theme in the four group discussions staff and residents engage in each month. 

Residents at our Third Street Men’s Shelter enjoyed the holiday celebrations so much that Assistant Shelter Director Aluta Khanyile’s continued a seasonal theme by highlighting Black History Month. “The response to all the activities and events we had over the holidays was so positive,” he explains, “that we thought, why not have another celebration, centered on Black History Month, this time?”  Posting them in the common areas of the 200-bed facility, Aluta intends that even in passing the images of--and quotations from--notable Black Americans will raise staff and residents’ awareness, as well as open the door to further cultural exchange. “Next,” he declares, “we need to recognize and celebrate the Hispanic people’s heritage.”

The most elaborate observance of Black History at Project Renewal this year has is in our 200-bed Fort Washington Men’s Shelter for men diagnosed with mental illness and/or substance abuse issues.  Here, Recreation Therapist Joseph White has cooked up a month-long string of related activities and events, including special crossword puzzles, trivia matches, field trips and guest speakers, all centered on Black History Month and culminating in a grand, evening-long talent show featuring staff and resident actors, singers, and musicians, in performance.  It is a tradition White has cultivated over the years.

 The Afrikana Madonna, also known as Barbara Bethea

The Afrikana Madonna, also known as Barbara Bethea

Likewise, when the Geffner House Recreation Director Ellis Eisner was first hired eight years ago, she decided to invite a guest speaker to the 20-story, 307-unit building for formerly homeless men and women.  “I grew up during the movement,” confides Ellis who upholds this tradition February. “I was eight years old when they assassinated Martin Luther King.  So this is an important holiday to me.” This month’s activities include a group day trip to Harlem’s Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture,  a visit from poetess/therapist Barbara Bethea, better known to her fans as the “Afrikana Madonna,” and, new this year, construction of a black-themed Papier-mâché community “quilt” assembled from individual panels created by staff and residents. 

The day the pipes broke

In the depths of this winter’s brutal cold snap, a looming crisis: a homeless shelter in the Bronx is suddenly rendered uninhabitable due to broken water pipes. An emergency call from the NYC Department of Homeless Services (DHS) to Project Renewal’s new, state-of-the-art Bronx Boulevard Shelter provided the solution.

“It was in the evening. I was on my way home after my shift when my cell phone rang,” recalls Ana Charle, Director of Bronx Boulevard.  The shelter wasn’t yet fully open so Ana quickly scrambled to make sure that there were enough staff, goods and services in place to make her unanticipated visitors as comfortable as possible.

bronx blvd opening redo copy 4.jpg

“DHS told me 20 clients were coming, so I put in a call to Comfort Foods (Project Renewal’s catering company) to rush over 20 meals” says Ana. “Then they called me back and told me the number was closer to 90. I had to get right back on the line and order another 70 meals.”

Our staff pulled together that night, stepping outside their regular roles to help wherever needed - ensuring that the facility was clean and that sheets, blankets and toiletries were on hand.  Although employees were called in to work unexpectedly, many volunteered to stay for 14 and 21 hour shifts to make certain that our guests’ needs were met!

 Click here to check out photos of our new Bronx Blvd shelter!

Click here to check out photos of our new Bronx Blvd shelter!

Project Renewal Champions of HOPE.

 Left to right:  Aluta Khanyile (Assistant Director, Project Renewal's Third Street Men's Shelter), Christy Parque (Executive Director, Homeless Services United) and Elizabeth Fasanya (Case Manager Project Renewal, In Homes Now)

Left to right:  Aluta Khanyile (Assistant Director, Project Renewal's Third Street Men's Shelter), Christy Parque (Executive Director, Homeless Services United) and Elizabeth Fasanya (Case Manager Project Renewal, In Homes Now)

Our hats are off to Emily Brown, Elizabeth Fasanya, Shanira Griffith, Aluta Khanyile, Jackie Moore, Jana Pohorelsky, Mizraim Reyes, Rosalind Williams, and Brittany Zenner.  These nine Project Renewal staffers volunteered to be DHS HOPE surveyors.  So, on Monday, January 27th, they were out in the frigid night, traveling some of this city’s meaner avenues, looking for anyone living on the streets. 

As Emily Brown, who recruited our volunteers explains, DHS (NYC Department of Homeless Services) purposely chooses January to do the annual HOPE (Homeless Outreach Population Estimate) count,  so that they can identify chronically homeless individuals, who tend  to tough it out during the colder nights rather than use the shelter system.

HOPE count data factors into how the city allocates resources.   An undercount could result in an shortfall of services and/or facilities and supplies on hand.  So we are proud of our PRI staffers who braved the chill themselves so that when vulnerable New Yorkers seek help in the future, they will not get left out in the cold.

One of them, Mizraim Reyes, of our Medical Department, went a step further when she encountered a man who hadn’t eaten in a while. “I offered to call the DHS Van for him,” she recalls, “but he didn’t want to go to a shelter and leave behind his two shopping carts full of his possessions, which the shelter can’t accommodate. So I asked him, ‘Well what do you want us to do for you?’ and he said ‘I’m hungry,’ so we went to a deli and got him something to eat.”

A huge thanks to you all, our Project Renewal Champions of HOPE!

20 years ahead of the times

This year's annual anniversary celebration of the Ft. Washington Men's Shelter had a special guest--the new NYC Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Michele Ovesey.

Celebrating Ft. Washington

The New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS) Commissioner Michele Ovesey (center) with Project Renewal President & CEO Mitchell Netburn (Left) and Dr. Norbert Sander, executive director of The Armory Foundation at The New Balance Track & Field Center.

Commissioner Ovesey commended the width breadth of Project Renewal programs. She said,

"I was amazed that Project Renewal was working on preventing homelessness and treating the underlying causes as early as 1967, a good 20 years before they were widely known."

Congrats staff and clients on 17 years!

Ft Washington 17 year Celebration
Ft Washington 17 year Celebration
Ft Washington 17 year Celebration
Ft Washington 17 year Celebration
Ft Washington 17 year Celebration
Ft Washington 17 year Celebration
Ft Washington 17 year Celebration
Ft Washington 17 year Celebration
Ft Washington 17 year Celebration
Ft Washington 17 year Celebration
Ft Washington 17 year Celebration

Fletcher Residence Delivers Eco-friendly Innovation

WOMAN-ARMS.jpg

How do we do it?

  • ƒƒConvective heating and cooling with custom window valences
  • ƒƒ“Extra” insulated apartments block out noise, odors, and outside temperatures
  • ƒƒBuilding exterior is continuously insulated for maximum performance
  • ƒƒPlanters on “pop outs” hold trailing vines that will shade windows from western summer sun.

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From the Archives! Sprint 2012 -- Having a key means everything

Meet the tenants of Fletcher Residence

The west wing, Fletcher Residence, is home to 55 mentally-ill men and women in their own studio apartments. Patricia was one of the first tenants to move in: “I love living here. I prayed for a place to live by Christmas and lo and behold on December 20th I moved in!”

“They are thrilled,” said Program Manager Peter Bazeley of the new tenants. “We have 13 admitted since December 20th and interviews are going on right now. We have stacks of applications, about ten applications for every opening. Most tenants will come directly from shelters, including our own shelters, New Providence and Fort Washington.”

The men and women at Fletcher Residence receive long-term training to achieve lasting stability, work on sobriety issues if necessary, work on community integration skills, and daily living skills. Explains Peter, “Independent housing is the final goal so now is the time to start developing the skills necessary to live independently in the community. Tenants are encouraged to make friendships outside of the program and engage in ordinary community activities such as going to the library, the movies or shopping. We have no curfew; residents can pretty much come and go as they please. We have medication supervision and money management when needed. We have a nurse, a psychiatrist once a week and case managers who work directly with the residents.”

As tenants settle in they are introduced to each other and have community meetings to talk about the skills they will be working on, including a cooking workshop to be held in the tenants’ apartments.

Patricia is enjoying her apartment’s many amenities. “I have a state of the art kitchen, refrigerator, flat screen TV, and a very comfortable bed with a comforter and sheets. They provide you with everything! I have a microwave, a working stove, a walk-in closet and I have a beautiful bathroom.” But more than anything, she is grateful for something that anyone else might take for granted…“It’s such a blessing to own a key to my own home. Having a key means everything after you’ve been homeless.”

Meet Harry!

You might have seen Harry as a homeless man on the train years ago. Since childhood he has lived on the streets and spent almost 30 years in prison during his life. But now Harry is back! It is our honor to introduce you to Harry Dickerson, who gives us hope for New Yorkers still struggling to reclaim their lives.

Watch his story and be inspired!

HOPE volunteers find over 3,000 homeless New Yorkers living on streets and in subways

What is the HOPE Survey?

In February New York City’s Department of Homeless Services and hundreds of volunteers completed its annual point-in-time HOPE census of the unsheltered homeless population, first conducted in 2005. The report details changes in the count of unsheltered homeless men and women by borough, and identifies whether they are found living in the subway stations and trains underground or at street level.

View report from NYC DHS

What does this mean for Project Renewal?

At Project Renewal we focus on serving the hardest to reach homeless men and women—those with mental illness, drug addiction, or both. These clients are most often homeless without shelter (those represented by the HOPE Survey) or are among the 11,000 single adults living in emergency housing.

So what can you do to help?

Four nights every week we partner with Manhattan Outreach Consortium to increase outreach to homeless men and women not in shelters by providing primary care through our medical vans.

These mobile clinics bring healthcare to homeless men and women where they are, delivering primary care to those who are also struggling with mental illness and addiction.

Mobile Medical Van Visit Winter 2013

On those nights, healthcare providers seek out street homeless clients in places where they gather including behind the Port Authority Bus Terminal and the Harlem Y.  The goal is to treat health needs before they escalate to emergency room visits and to encourage patients to seek ongoing care ideally in a residential treatment program.

What can your gift do today?

$15

Provides needed items such as socks and sweatshirts, which ensures follow-up visits for continued care

$50

Stocks the MedVan with first aid and over-the-counter medications for a week

$100

Covers an OraQuick HIV/AIDS test and counseling

$5,000

Gives 25 patients access to the MedVan, our mobile clinic that provides healthcare, psychiatry, lab testing, and pharmacy all in one van

DonateNow
Mobile Medical Van Visit Winter 2013

Meet our Parole Support and Treatment Staff

Bertha Alford, PSTP

PSTP held a pot luck lunch on Wednesday April 25th so program staff and other Project Renewal Staff at Varick could mingle.

It was a lunch filled with a lot of laughs, networking and plenty of good food. Everyone enjoyed the event. It was also an opportunity to say farewell to Garra Faber of S.T.E.P, and welcome our new employees.

pictuures pstp
pictuures pstp
PSTP Potluck
PSTP Potluck

Client’s Speak Out to End Homelessness

Homelessness can rob a person of their sense of independence and self-worth. But as the men and women we work with regain their health, self-sufficiency, and housing we empower them to become their own advocate.

A newly formed coalition—United to End Homelessness—launched their campaign on the steps of City Hall last month, and our clients were there to make their voice heard. Joseph White, Recreation Specialist at Ft. Washington Men’s Shelter, reports on the day:

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By: Joseph White

April 9th was a very good day; I and several clients went down to City Hall and joined with the United to End Homelessness campaign to speak about the importance of housing. The steps of City Hall were filled with various organizations that all came together for the same cause.

The Homeless United demonstration held on the steps of City Hall was an inspirational and uplifting event.  It was an event that stood for Hope and Fairness, an event that brought different organizations from all over the city together.  In a united fashion, over two hundred strong, we stood.  We stood and we were heard. THE STEPS OF CITY HALL WILL NEVER BE THE SAME.

Several clients attended; here are their experiences in their own words:

Derrick Neptune

My experience at the demonstration was very fulfilling for myself and the benefit for others that are homeless. I feel like I’m a part of a revolution for the neglected.

Michael Jordan

It was one of the most uplifting experiences I had in my life. I met very important people who gave me hope. The system works if you work the system. I’m looking forward to housing, and I’m also looking forward to participating in any other future events that support my cause.

Jose Rodriguez

I felt like I was a part of something big.

John Webb

It was hot but I was happy to be here.

Matthew Pukala

It was an honor to be here, I felt like I helped my cause. I gained a sense of what it is like to be in a situation representing the public in a matter of importance to many people.

It was a great day for the men.  I always love when the clients feel like they’re a part of the solution and the world.

A special thank you to Ft. Washington Director Etta Graham for setting up and organizing the field trip for us.

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United to End Homelessness

United to End Homelessness is a new coalition of advocates, homeless and formerly homeless individuals, service providers, faith leaders, and experts on the issue of homelessness in New York City.

Learn More Here

Staff and Tenants Visit NYC City Hall to Rally for Supportive Housing

Supportive housing ends homelessness!  Geffner House staff members joined City Council Member Annabel Palma at a City Hall rally on March 18 to urge restoration of social service funding slashed in the Mayor’s proposed budget for FY 2014.

Clinical Director Amy DeFilippi (lower left) gave her first-hand account of how case managers help tenants regain health and stay out of shelters, prisons, and emergency rooms.  Her work experience is backed up by a 2010 HASA study that found that on-site case managers reduced emergency room visits by 90% and resulted in savings of $80,000 in acute care PER person per year.

In Amy’s own words:

The right to housing and the right to healthcare are necessary, together, to end homelessness in New York.  Homelessness and poor health are locked in a cycle of cause and effect.  Poor health puts one at risk for homelessness, as it is estimated that one half of the personal bankruptcy cases in the US are caused by health problems.  Many of these people, particularly those with mental health and substance abuse problems, end up in the costly shelter system and flood our emergency rooms with needs better served by primary care physicians.  

Supportive housing works to end the cycle of homelessness for our city’s neediest people.  It is a permanent solution to homelessness that links people with mental illnesses, substance abuse issues, HIV/AIDS to cost affective, affordable and stable homes.   With on-site case management and a full time clinical staff, tenants have the support they need to address their ongoing health, mental health, and addiction issues. 

I am the Clinical Director Project Renewal’s Geffner House, a 307 unit SRO, or Single Room Occupancy, in Times Square.  A large percentage of our clients are from HASA.  In New York City alone there are 4,500 tenants with HIV/AIDS living in supportive housing.  I have been working as a supervisor and case manager for several years and in this time I have seen the work that on-site case management does to stabilize people which limits their recidivism into the shelter system, prison, and emergency rooms. 

In working with one of my clients I have witnessed his four yearly inpatient psychiatric hospitalizations dwindle to two years without any inpatient visits.  With my support he has found the right mental health providers to stabilize him psychiatrically, and I have provided him with the consistent reminders necessary to take all of his medications daily.  He has now developed a healthy routine that he did not feel was possible from his many years of being street homeless.  With my support and encouragement he has established consistent medical services.  The stability in his health has given him the courage to battle his 45 year substance abuse and dependence problems.  I am happy to say that he is now one year sober and counting.  He attributes this to the daily support and encouragement our consistent therapeutic relationship has provided him.  To use his words “you have reminded me that I have something to live for”. 

I have come here today to say that the proposed budget cuts will not save tax-payers money.  Churchill, Truman, Dostoyevsky have all said something along the lines of “A society is indeed measured on how we treat our most vulnerable population”.  If we truly believe this as a society, then these proposed budget cuts are preposterous.   They won’t save our city money, but they will deprive some of our most needy fellow New Yorkers of the much needed services and support required to live an independent life.  

These proposed cuts will not save tax payers money.  In 2010 HASA did an analysis of HASA funded supportive housing sponsored by Harlem United.  They found that the result of on-site case managers reduced emergency room visits by 90%, and nursing home reliance by 54%.  This resulted in a savings of $80,000 dollars in acute care PER person per year.

I am here to thank you for restoring the budget cuts from last year, and to thank the City Council for its ongoing support of HASA programs.  But I am here, for the third year in a row, to ask you to continue to make supportive housing programs a priority for some of our neediest New Yorkers and to restore the proposed budget cuts.

More photos from the day 

Geffner House staff and tenants celebrate a "lucky" evening

On the night of March 15th a party to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day took place at Geffner House. About 50 tenants attended and ate meals consisting of corned beef, cabbage and potatoes, and salad. A beautifully decorated and delicious sheet cake was for dessert.

Boxed meals were brought to about 13 homebound tenants. Music of the Chieftains as well as soul, and R & B was played. A good time was had by all!