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, Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church opened a trial shelter (in cooperation with the Partnership for the Homeless) 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 for up to 12 men, 365 nights a year.
Today, the David B. Skinner Shelter is a 12-bed facility that provides secure sleeping quarters, food and fellowship to guests awaiting a transition to permanent housing. The shelter is named for David B. Skinner, M.D., a former trustee of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church and the president of New York Hospital Cornell Medical Center until his death in 2003. Initial funding for the shelter was provided in Dr. Skinner’s honor by the Starr Foundation.
The shelter is currently closed due to Covid-19 protocols. We hope to re-open the shelter as soon as it is safe to do so.
By the late 1990s, more than a decade after we opened our men’s shelter, it was clear that New York’s homeless population was fast outgrowing the city’s shelter capacity. A number of men and women were seeking refuge on the sidewalks and front steps of the church.
In 1998, the late Margaret Shafer, our associate for outreach, created our befriending ministry, with the aim of creating a personal connection with our neighbors living on the streets. 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 befriending ministry continued to evolve and grow.
Now in its third decade, our befriending ministry sponsors a number of annual events that have become beloved traditions at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church.
The Margaret Shafer Community Picnic takes place every summer in Central Park. The Joe Vedella Christmas Dinner honors the memory of our former shelter manager and prominent advocate for the city’s homeless. We also host Christmas and Easter parties for shelter families. These events help to strengthen the bond between our congregation and our neighbors on the streets.
These events provide numerous volunteer opportunities for members and friends of the church. Contact us if you are interested in serving as a volunteer with Outreach Ministries. Or look for upcoming opportunities on the church’s events calendar.