The Archdiocese of New York, through Catholic Charities, is placing five sites for the city to assess as possible safe havens in a mayoral initiative to end long-term street homelessness in New York City.
The initiative, called “The Journey Home,” was discussed at a Dec. 17 press conference led by Mayor Bill de Blasio at Judson Memorial Church in lower Manhattan.
The mayor’s initiative seeks to add 1,000 beds in safe havens, create 1,000 low-barrier permanent apartments for New Yorkers experiencing street homelessness, bring medical and behavioral health care to the people living on the streets and the subways in all five boroughs, and enhance outreach programs assisting homeless people to find shelter.
Cardinal Dolan, who was joined at the press conference by fellow members of New York’s City’s Commission of Religious Leaders, called the mayor’s enthusiasm for the initiative “particularly unique and refreshing.”
“So, Mayor, not only count on us, we’re ready through Catholic Charities to place five spots at your disposal for possible safe havens. We hope that it works. Count on not only our help, but count on our prayers...”
Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities in the archdiocese, told CNY in an interview later that week the five parish sites will be in the New York City boroughs of Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx, and he hopes the sites together house at least 100 individuals. The parish sites, which once served as rectories, convents and churches, will need renovations to prepare them to serve as safe havens.
“The archdiocese was very forthcoming in saying it would identify five potential sites that the city could assess to establish safe havens for people who are on the street,” Msgr. Sullivan said. “Catholic Charities will be intimately involved in that project.
“We are very interested in kind of continuing to provide similar types of assistance as we are in the already existing safe haven in Holy Rosary parish in East Harlem. We are looking to continue those programs and services in a similar way with maybe even some additional responsibilities for those shelters as they begin to be opened.”
Mayor de Blasio said the city has helped more than 2,450 homeless New Yorkers stay off the streets since the launch of the Homeless Outreach and Mobile Engagement Street Action Teams in 2016, and believes the same can be done for the remaining 3,600 unsheltered New Yorkers living on the streets and subways.
People living on the streets are only a fraction of the overall homeless population in New York City. There currently are about 60,000 individuals living in shelters in the five boroughs.
“This is a very very important initiative,” Msgr. Sullivan said. “It’s not the first, it’s not unique, but it’s an important initiative to deal with a very significant and long-term problem. I do believe one of the things that is critical for us at Catholic Charities to point out is that some deep-seated problems need to be understood as needing consistent long-term attention and to think that we solve deep-seated problems by a one-time silver bullet is just unrealistic and it raises false expectations.
“On the other hand, the danger is that because the problem is so big we say we can’t solve it and then we say we can’t do anything. That’s nonsense. We can do a lot. We can take positive steps, and that’s what this initiative is. Catholic Charities is very very pleased to work with a partner to help move this forward.”
At the press conference, Cardinal Dolan praised Msgr. Sullivan and his staff at Catholic Charities as well as the mayor and his staff for assisting the homeless.
“I hear from our homeless population that in this city they’re treated with dignity and respect, that they’re not looked upon as statistics, as cases, as numbers, but as people with a name, people made in the image and likeness of God,” the cardinal said. “People who simply want a safe and stable place to live.”
Mayor de Blasio opened his remarks by saying he was moved by the cardinal’s words.
“Cardinal Dolan has made this very personal what he said to the people of this city and the whole nation because you talked about very openly your own response to seeing people on the street and realizing that we all have to resist that sadly practical impulse to just walk by and to not see the full humanity in a person,” Mayor de Blasio said.
“You, Cardinal, have been so honest, and it’s so powerful, in saying, ‘Wait, we all have to stop. That individual is a child of God. That individual has a mother and father. Many of them even have children of their own’...
“These are human beings. They’re just like all of us, and they deserve our love and our compassion. That would be true any day of the year, but in this season where so many faiths come together in celebration and renewal, this is the time to go farther than we ever imagined possible.”
The mayor thanked the Commission of Religious Leaders for partnering with the city in the initiative.