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.
In 1986, FAPC 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 FAPC Shelter, it was clear that the needs of the homeless in New York City were as urgent as ever. In 1998, the late Margaret Shafer, our associate for outreach, created FAPC’s befriending ministry, with the intent of connecting personally with the homeless 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 FAPC’s “steps ministry” continued for another 10 years. But while friendship and a hot breakfast were means of alleviating suffering, our real aim was always to help move the homeless from our steps into full-time housing.
In 2011 FAPC, in partnership with the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing (WSFSSH), launched a new program targeted at the chronic homeless—those most resistant to city shelter and services. By persuading dozens of these men to take temporary shelter during the winter, FAPC has been able to connect them with case management services from WSFSSH. This innovative program has succeeded in transitioning more than 50 men off the streets into permanent housing. (Read more about the Special Shelter Project here.)
Meanwhile, in addition to operating our men’s shelter, our Outreach staff maintains an effective street outreach program to our homeless neighbors. The annual Christmas dinner, summer picnic, holiday parties for shelter families and other events—staples of our ministry for more than 10 years—have also forged a powerful bond between our congregation and our homeless neighbors.