Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church has been committed to homeless outreach since the 1980s—and continues during this time of the Covid-19 pandemic.
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 in cooperation with The Partnership for the Homeless. 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 urgently growing. To address the needs of the homeless not in the shelter system, the late Margaret Shafer, our associate for outreach, created Fifth Avenue’s befriending ministry in 1998, with the intent to connect 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.
Outreach Ministries continues its long-standing commitment to the homeless through a variety of actions and programs, including our befriending ministry, a series of events to connect homeless men and women to church members, and The David B. Skinner Shelter to support our neighbors experiencing homelessness. For Fifth Avenue, supporting the homeless is a direct response to living out the Gospel. Thus, homelessness has and will continue to be part of the very fabric of this Church.
Our befriending ministry, now in its third decade, provides numerous opportunities to strengthen the bond between our congregation and our neighbors on the streets through such events as the annual Joe Vedella Christmas Dinner, the Margaret Shafer Community Picnic, Christmas and Easter parties for shelter families and other events. All of these activities are mainstays of Outreach Ministries at Fifth Avenue in service to our homeless neighbors. Volunteer support is needed at these events. Please check the church calendar for the date of each event if you are interested in volunteering or email [email protected].
David B. Skinner Shelter
The Shelter is currently closed due to Covid-19 protocols.
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 operates every night of the year with trained volunteers serving as evening and overnight hosts. Today, the shelter runs in cooperation with Urban Pathways, an organization serving adult homeless and formerly homeless populations in New York City.
Our shelter guests are men ages 35 and older who are currently experiencing homelessness. Up to 12 men can stay in the shelter on a given night. Our guests are assigned to the David B. Skinner Shelter by staff at the Antonio G. Olivieri Drop-In Center. The Olivieri Center is a place where homeless individuals receive meals, clothing, showers, entitlement assistance, medical screening and assistance, counseling, access to vocational training and rehabilitation and recovery programs, and instruction in independent living skills.
Our guests are men of diverse cultural backgrounds with equally diverse life experiences. Some have never spent a night on the street; others have lived on the streets for many years. Some will stay in our shelter for a few months, others a bit longer, as they pursue a transition to permanent housing.
Our shelter hosts give of their time to create a safe and renewing environment and foster a sense of community between the congregation and our guests. The Evening Host arrives by 7 pm, enjoys fellowship with the guests and leaves shortly after the Overnight Host arrives. The Overnight Host arrives by 8:30 pm and departs shortly after 6 am the next day, after the guests have returned to the Olivieri Center. The Overnight Host sleeps in the host room and rises by 5:30 am to make coffee and set out breakfast foods.
How to Volunteer
Hosts are needed every night of the year, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. Anyone over age 18 is eligible to serve as a host. To serve as a shelter host you do not need to worship at or be a member of Fifth Avenue. Individuals can volunteer for both the evening and overnight shifts in a single night, or you may volunteer for the shift of your choosing. Many hosts serve on their own, while others serve in tandem. Fifth Avenue volunteers and staff typically provide ongoing support to former shelter guests as they transition into permanent housing to strengthen the congregational to guest bond.
If you are interested in volunteering as a shelter host, please click here to email Rev. Séamus Campbell, Director of Homeless Ministries. You must complete a brief orientation and training. Afterward you will have access to the online hosting calendar and may sign up for any available hosting opportunity.