Amanda Hambrick Ashcraft
It looked for a while that year three of the Special Shelter Project would never get off the ground. But the Holy Spirit eventually came through—and on Feb. 19, a new transitional shelter opened on the Upper West Side, offering warm beds to as many as 12 homeless men on some of the coldest nights of the year.
The Special Shelter Project is an innovative program conceived by the Steps Study Group at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in 2011. For a decade, FAPC had allowed men and women to sleep overnight on our front steps—until sustained improvements in the city’s response to the homeless persuaded us to discontinue the steps ministry. The Special Shelter Project was devised to provide a winter refuge to homeless men who remained resistant to the city’s shelter options.
A successful two years
In its first two years, the shelter project provided temporary housing and services to 39 men. Thirty of them were eventually placed in permanent housing or are on the path to it.
FAPC funded and provided staff and volunteer support for the first year of the program, in partnership with the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing (WSFSSH). Guests were housed for three months at the Church of the Ascension on West 108th Street.
In year two, the program grew. With funding from the New York Community Trust, the Neighborhood Coalition for Shelter joined FAPC and WSFSSH to support a six-month shelter program at two churches (Ascension and St. Mary’s Episcopal), from January through June 2012.
Then things got complicated. We learned that neither of the partner churches would be able to continue providing shelter space in year three. West End Presbyterian Church came on board over the summer, but finding a second church proved difficult. And while we were hopeful of a new foundation grant to support a six-month, two-church program, funding was still not secured as 2012 drew to a close.
And winter was closing in.
“We began to fear that we would not be able to continue the Special Shelter Project this year,” says the Rev. Kate Dunn, associate pastor for pastoral care and outreach. “We had WSFSSH committed, West End Presbyterian committed, our Outreach staff committed, and homeless men on a waiting list for this special shelter—but no funding. So we shifted course, and started looking for funding for a three-month shelter at the one church that had committed space.”
That’s when the Spirit intervened. A representative of a local foundation had recently learned about FAPC’s record in homeless advocacy and about the plight of the Special Shelter Project. Although the project didn’t exactly square with its funding profile, the foundation (which wishes to remain anonymous) offered up $35,000—enough to fund the shelter at West End Presbyterian for three months.
Back in operation
This week FAPC and WSFSSH began referring men to the transitional shelter.
On a rainy Tuesday, Amanda Ashcraft (FAPC’s director of outreach ministries) and Keith Gupton (assistant for homeless ministries) rode with Ted and Ishmael, the shelter’s first two guests, to West End Presbyterian. The men will receive breakfast and dinner every day at Valley Lodge (a nearby shelter operated by WSFSSH) as well as case management services.
Ashcraft is contacting other churches in the city to identify other men who refuse to stay in municipal shelters but might be persuaded to give West End a try.
“One of the tougher challenges of our work with the homeless is working with those who would rather take their chances on the streets than go to a city shelter,” she says. “Thanks to this generous donor, we can once again provide an option that could lead to permanent housing for many of these men.”