Homelessness has been a painful, difficult and persistent issue in New York City since the 1970’s, and there are presently more people experiencing homelessness in our city than ever before: around 70,000 individuals, or 1 in 125 NYC residents.
BJ’s shelter opened its doors in 1985, and thanks to the commitment of hundreds of volunteers throughout the years and a fruitful partnership with the Church of St Paul and St Andrew we have been able to do our small part to support people who do not have a place to live, a basic human need.
However, like most NYC residents, most of us have not had to deal with the complex issues which underlie homelessness until recently when we came, literally, face to face with it on the Upper West Side.
Because of the risk facing people in shelters during the coronavirus pandemic, the City moved thousands of individuals out of congregant shelters and into hotels in different neighborhoods. 700 people who were living in such shelters were brought into three hotels on the UWS this summer. It is widely agreed that the city failed in not creating any process of community engagement and not providing enough on-site support for those who were moved. It is also true that those of us who live on the Upper West Side had already seen our neighborhood impacted by the pandemic with countless empty storefronts and restaurants closed and a sense of vulnerability about the future of our city and neighborhood. The use of these local hotels as temporary shelters has made some of us feel the neighborhood has changed even more dramatically and is less safe. There have been regrettable incidents involving a number of the men living in these hotels (a small subset of the overall population), and there has also been vitriol and collective criminalization of homeless people, as well as hate filled, very public exchanges among UWS neighbors.
There are no simple answers to these issues. Our tradition upholds the sacredness and dignity of every human being, the right to a safe environment, and calls us to express our disagreements with civility and mutual respect. It is incumbent on us as a religious community to come together to explore the immediate challenges before us while examining the larger connected issues of homelessness, affordable housing, mental health support, racism and mass incarceration that continue to plague our city.
Please join us for an educational forum that will help contextualize the recent increase in homelessness that our city has seen, as a step towards imagining a better future for all residents of New York.