Relief Bus Parked at Church Helps Homeless People With Meals and Supplies

The team at New York City Relief.

By Renee Roden

On a bright Thursday morning, three New York City Relief staff members, several volunteers, and “Zaccheus”—the organization’s emblematic red-lettered Relief Bus—offered homeless Upper West Siders meals and hygiene kits under a red tent pitched outside All Angels Church on West 80th Street. The bus was there to help homeless people in the neighborhood, and was drawn in part because of the attention on those shelters in recent days.

But the outreach was nothing new for the organization. Since 1989, the New York City Relief has been driving its bus into high need areas—Chelsea, Lower East Side, Bowery, Harlem, and the Bronx—in New York City to get to know community members, and to connect them to essential services. Josiah Haken, Vice Presidents of Outreach Operations, said that despite the vast resources and social services New York City offers, “there are a lot of people who are experiencing homelessness who don’t even know where the services are.”

New York City Relief was created to “meet people where they are,” and go to neighborhoods where there are often barriers to accessing social services.

Teresa Gowan, Director of Community Partnerships at New York City Relief said that their goal is to be a “bridge” between men and women on the street to resources they need. Gowan connects over 300 community organizations to the homeless population of New York City.

She said that people were already lining up Thursday morning while they were in the midst of setting up their tent. And the reception they received from passers-by was positive.

Although this is the first outreach New York City Relief has run at All Angels, the church itself runs a drop-in program, the Pathways Drop-In Program. Every Tuesday and Thursday, Pathways offers mail service, showers, and medical and psychiatric care to homeless members of the neighborhood.

Chelsea Horvath has been the Director of Community Ministries for the past five years, but the church’s commitment to community outreach runs deep in its history. The church was founded in Seneca Village, the neighborhood whose residents were evicted under eminent domain by the city in 1857 to make room for Central Park. The church, Horvath says, continues to minister to those without “landed property.” She described the church as an “integrated worshipping community, so the homed and homeless are worshipping together. Regardless of your housing status, you’re part of the church community.”

Haxon partnered with All Angels last year to lead a workshop “Understanding & Responding to Our Homeless Neighbors.” So when he heard the news about The Lucerne, a hotel on 79th Street that has been turned into a shelter, he reached out to Horvath to see what they could do together. He was sensitive to being an outsider to the community and potentially offering redundant services. “I didn’t want to drive an outreach into a sensitive situation without consulting with a local community member,” he said.

But Horvath was enthusiastic about New York City Relief Bus advertising and expanding the Pathways outreach. She knew the relief bus was “a low-bar, easy thing to do that was going to have a high impact.”

A woman passing by the tent stopped and asked Haxon what was going on, as he explained their outreach, she listened attentively. But “shouldn’t you be closer to the action?” she asked, referring to The Lucerne. Haxon explained that there were volunteers from Redeemer West Side and All Angels Church dispersed around the neighborhood, distributing supplies, socks, and hygiene kits to those who were interested.

The passer-by nodded enthusiastically, “That’s great, that’s really great,” she repeated.

In the spirit of going to where the people in need are, Horvath brought flyers advertising All Angels’ Pathways program and the Relief Bus outreach to the doors of the Lucerne and Belleclaire. She distributed the flyers to the security guards at each building, and she spoke warmly of her interactions with the guards. “They were so hospitable and kind,” Horvath added, “they were so welcoming.”

Interacting with the security guards sparked a sense of hope in Horvath for the future of the Upper West Side community. Horvath concluded, “I know that there is a lot of tension and mixed feelings about what has happened. But I do see a lot of hope for what could if we were to work together to improve everybody’s communal life on the Upper West Side. I think there’s a lot of potential.”

NEWS | 4 comments | permalink
    1. Heidi says:

      Do you know if the bus needs volunteers? I’d like to help.

    2. Anita Altman says:

      God bless them…we all need to step up to be part of the solution, most grateful to these folks for doing so!