Hello, New York, Jack Frost is here. It has been one of the coldest periods we’ve experienced in a very long time, and many of those who are homeless are struggling. During my years of being homeless on the streets of New York City, I did not experience as much cold weather as we are now experiencing in the winter of 2017-2018.
LEFSA has a more than 20-year history of going out to do street ministry in Midtown Manhattan. During this cold season we witness a great number of individuals who are, for one reason or another, still on the streets of Midtown. During our Harlem Street Ministry we have not seen many people—in the last month everyone has taken shelter elsewhere in this region of the city. But not in Midtown. For Midtown Manhattan life is as usual, no matter how sad or grim the reality is. Most individuals that our street ministry has encountered are now located inside of Penn Station. The number of people that are there compensates for all of our street ministry locations. Last night, as on most Monday nights in the last couple weeks, we encountered at least 150 people inside and outside of the station. Many of those that we encounter are seniors, women and men.
It’s been our blessing to provide this service. So many people have said to us, “we thought you were not coming out today, but it’s a blessing your are here for us.” And we are there, every Monday, whether it’s cold or warm outside. We also converse with fellow passengers, people waiting and boarding the trains, who ask us who we are and what we are doing. Last night, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we met a mother with her 14-year old son passing out sandwiches. We learned that they come out every MLK Day to do something for those who are less fortunate. Some of the passengers are also in need, so we spent time in fellowship with all of those who are in need of food or a kind word, building a community right there in the station among all people.
For me, as a ministry worker, it’s truly a blessing to be motivated and know the impact of our role in the community. This experience of Monday Night Street Ministry also tells me that our conditions for affordable housing, our conditions for treating people with mental illness or substance abuse, are lacking. I’ve noticed a great number of Bowery Residents Committee (BRC) homeless outreach units in the area. Thankfully they are doing their part to get people off the street. It is not uncommon for us to hear stories of those who are still in the trenches of staying on the street because of fear of the shelter system. And to hear stories of deaths among our street homeless community, deaths that are not being reported anywhere.
The LEFSA Street Ministry still continues to forge ahead, no matter what the weather conditions are. For me personally, an individual who used to live on the streets of Midtown Manhattan, I know the importance of those who came out and looked for me to provide this service. I know the importance of the individuals who come out in the later parts of the week to help when LEFSA is not there. So we make sure to dedicate our time and courage to those who are street homeless, because the bottom line is that being there for someone who is less fortunate is the true blessing. I have never forgotten those who were there for me in my hour of need, no matter what their circumstances or their situation. LEFSA always remembers that our community deserves respect, dignity and honor. We all have to remember what role we can play to address the needs of those who are less fortunate. We also thank God for another opportunity to do something to enrich the quality of our community. By helping others, no matter who they are, we extend our love through the reign of God.
— James Butler