Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church has initiated an innovative partnership with two neighboring churches that will provide full-time support and street outreach to men and women experiencing homelessness and others in need of social services.
Beginning June 12, John Sheehan, LMSW, a social worker who has provided part-time support to FAPC’s Outreach Ministries since 2015, will assume a 40-hour, five-day weekly schedule serving walk-ins, street homeless and congregation members. John's position as director of Fifth Avenue Ecumenical Community Outreach will be co-funded by FAPC, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Saint Thomas Church.
“St. Patrick’s and Saint Thomas share our commitment to serve our neighbors in need, especially those who turn up looking for shelter, a warm coat or a hot meal, but whose needs are often more complex,” says the Rev. Kate Dunn, associate pastor for Congregational Care and Outreach. “We are grateful for the generosity and faithfulness of these congregations. Together, we will be better equipped to lend assistance to the struggling people we encounter every day.”
“Saint Thomas and St. Patrick’s have rich histories of community outreach and access to resources that will be a great benefit to us,” John says. “To do this work effectively, we have to build relationships of respect and trust with the people we serve. Being here full time, on a consistent basis, will allow me to do that.”
John will maintain his principal office at FAPC, spending time on site at St. Patrick’s and Saint Thomas as needed. He will coordinate his work with Kate and Séamus Campbell, director of Outreach Ministries, for FAPC; Peter Fitton, director of volunteer services, for St. Patrick’s; and Linda Morfi, pastoral care coordinator, for Saint Thomas. A support team of staff and lay representatives of the three churches will meet monthly with John to provide support and guidance.
The three churches have agreed to a one-year pilot with the option to renew their funding following review next spring. FAPC’s portion of the funding will be provided through a grant from the John and Polly Sparks Foundation, which has generously supported FAPC's outreach to homeless individuals for the past four years.
John will work Sunday and Monday from 10 am until 6 pm, and Tuesday through Thursday from 12 until 8 pm (though his hours may vary). He will devote the first part of his day to street outreach, and maintain regular office hours between 2 and 6 pm to serve walk-ins and referrals. He also will be available to serve members of all three congregations who may be having problems with housing, health care or Social Security benefits, or other concerns.
John’s responsibilities will include one-one-one counseling, assessment, direct services (e.g., providing clothing and toiletries), and referrals to agencies that can provide housing, mental health or family reunification services. He will consult and coordinate with a range of public and nonprofit agencies, including the Department of Homeless Services, the NYPD, Catholic Charities, Episcopal Charities, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Jan Hus Presbyterian Church and Neighborhood House, the Bowery Mission, and other social service offices and rehabilitation centers.
“John is absolutely the right person for this job,” Kate says. “He brings more than 30 years of experience and a breadth of skills to the work he feels called to do. He is also an advocate for the people he serves. He understands the bigger picture and argues for policies that will promote justice and fairness in the system.”
Threatened cuts in public assistance programs underscore the urgency of community- and faith-based responses, John says.
“New York City will always provide services as best it can, but the city is going to be hurt, and there will be gaps to fill” he says. “Partnerships like this one will be needed more than ever.”