Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church has been committed to homeless outreach since the 1980s—about the same time that homelessness in the city suddenly began to spiral upward. As the crisis of homelessness persists in New York City, our ministry continues.
In 1986, we opened a trial shelter that housed six men five nights a week. It wasn’t long before we doubled the capacity of our shelter and committed to providing refuge to up to 12 men, 365 nights a year.
By the late 1990s, more than a decade after we opened the men’s shelter, it was clear that the needs of New Yorkers experiencing homeless were as urgent as ever. In 1998, the late Margaret Shafer, our associate for outreach, created Fifth Avenue’s befriending ministry, with the intent of connecting personally with the men and women who passed by our doors every day and sought refuge on our front steps at night.
City officials and neighborhood groups quickly pushed back, and in December 2001, when the police began forcibly removing people from our sidewalks and steps, the church filed suit. We won our case, and Fifth Avenue’s “steps ministry” continued for another 10 years. Today, in addition to operating our men’s shelter, our staff maintains an effective street outreach program to our neighbors experiencing homelessness.
Our befriending ministry, now in its third decade, continues to strengthen bond between our congregation and our neighbors on the streets. The annual Joe Vedella Christmas Dinner, the Margaret Shafer Community Picnic, Christmas and Easter parties for shelter families and other events are mainstays of our volunteer program at Fifth Avenue.