Friday, March 10, 2017

Strength of community

Lounging on Fifth Avenue. Photo: JH.
Friday, March 10, 2017. Beautiful, bright sunny day in New York yesterday, with temps in the low 60s, dropping to the 30s with snow due around us. Saturday it will be in the mid-70s. Just kidding; although wouldn’t mind.

Why New York is interesting to New Yorkers. To the visitor its great interest is what you can see, be it buildings, works of art, crowds of people; fashion, industry in action as well as prospering; the parks, the endless shopping opportunities no matter your personal interest.

My mother first brought me here when I was seven or eight. On a Sunday “Excursion” train of the New York, New Haven and Hartford railroad. She showed me all the sites from bus and ferry. That cinched it for this kid although I didn’t know that then of course.
What I didn’t see then, nor did I even completely realize when I was living here as a young man, was the city’s essence. And that is accessibility – not just to institutions but to people, to individuals. That is where the enhancement comes which keeps us here.

A couple of weeks ago I went to a PEN dinner given by my friend Eve Stuart which I later wrote about here. It was a sit-down of 20, at one large and long table. The guest of honor was the New York Times op-ed columnist Gail Collins.

I was seated next to Brinton Parson, a woman I’d never met before. I learned that she worked as a volunteer for the Neighborhood Coalition for Shelter. I’d never heard of it. It’s an organization that shelters and assists homeless people. It’s small.
DPC with Ann Shalof and Brinton Parson at Michael’s.
I don’t’ know much about homelessness in the city although I know enough to see that it is everywhere. Last year there were more than 60,000 homeless people, a large percentage of which are children of all ages, here in New York.

Brinton told me she had been a teacher of small children which gave her great satisfaction. She was drawn to the NCS with the intention of somehow helping as a volunteer because it was in the neighborhood of the school where she taught. She soon found it gives her a similar satisfaction to that of teaching young children.

I never go to a charitable affair here in New York where I’m not reminded of the strength of community, and what we can do for ourselves without government action. The greatest things have come in our development from those individuals engaged in creating, financing and pursuit of philanthropic means to assist our fellow man -- and improve our community for everyone. This is what we expect from political parties, and from which we often experience great disappointment.

I suggested to Brinton that night at dinner that she introduce me to her executive director. So this past Tuesday I met Ann Shalof, the Exec. Director, with Brinton at Michael’s.

In New York you see homeless people everywhere. In the park down the block from me, on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, by the church on the corner of 79th and Broadway. They’re not as visible as other times, such as the late 1970s, early 80s but that partly because of the government activity of removing them off the streets.
Photos: JH
The matter of homelessness has a different face from the one we see on the streets. There are many different personal experiences and circumstances that lead to that path. Many live without housing for decades. There are all kinds of homeless situations including those of us who appear to be perfectly successfully adjusted but actually don’t have a place of our own. Troubles abound and solutions evade so much of the time.

I found out at lunch that there are formerly homeless men and women living in my neighborhood thanks to the Neighborhood Coalition for Shelter. It is The NCS Residence on 211 East 81 Street, a 65 room a single occupancy (SRO) residence. They have a licensed outpatient substance use and mental health treatment program for individuals both currently and formerly homeless. There are dinner programs for needy individuals, and volunteer program of more than 300 dedicated individuals and groups providing 5000 hours of service annually, serving meals, tutoring, leading recreational and computer programs and much more.
The objective is to provide housing for those in need but also to provide within that housing access to services, such as  vocational and/or employment services to help the formerly homeless men and women build skills and secure employment.

The NCS has a residence in the Bronx at 1323 Louis Nine Boulevard with 46units of supported housing for young adults who are homeless or aging out of foster care. 26 of the rooms are reserved for those aging-out; another fifteen are for residents with serious or persistent mental illness, and five are reserved for residents released from substance abuse treatment programs.
Ann Shalof told me that they “know that positive change is possible” from NCS and their programs and shelter. Their supportive residences are thriving offering stable housing to vulnerable New Yorkers facing multiple challenges. At Louis Nine House, young adults are making great strides as they prepare for successful adulthood and independence.

NCS was established in 1982 by faith and civic leaders on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Their premise: Homelessness is the responsibility of the entire community.  Their offices are at 50 Breaodway, Suite 1301. You can learn more about their work and how you can help by visiting

Contact DPC here.