Celebrating Those Who Serve our City's Most Vulnerable

A few days before this past holiday weekend I had the opportunity to meet with the men and women who run our Win shelters and permanent supportive housing for homeless families. The timing - just before Independence Day - was so appropriate because, as we were talking, I realized that these men and women lead our families through a process of finding their own independence.

As a result of these staff members' advocacy, support and guidance, the homeless mothers and children who rely on Win for help gain the skills they need to move forward in their own lives and achieve an independence that in turn helps lead to financial stability, employment, improved mental health care and permanent housing.

Like so many others who dedicate their lives to service, these hardworking men and women don't have a holiday dedicated to them. In fact, they wouldn't ever ask for one. They are striking in their selflessness. During our meeting, none of them mentioned their own needs, but instead spoke extensively about the needs of our clients, and the needs of the staff who report to them. They talked without recognition of how significant their roles were. Happily, they embraced the reality that their jobs are 24-7 jobs. They carry this responsibility into their private lives, their weekends, their holiday BBQs, knowing that at any moment their festivities could be interrupted if a Win family needs them.

They aren't just reactive to the needs of Win's clients, they are also pro-active. They know exactly what more the government and Win leadership need to do to better support our families. The staff gave me detailed examples of what needed to be changed and where focus had gone awry, by city government or by Win's leadership. They pushed for more comprehensive mental health resources for our moms and more on-site mental and preventive care for all family members. In a world where the failure of institutions and structures at all levels has resulted in our families' needs falling to the bottom of New Yorkers' minds, I was struck by how clearly our workers knew what was necessary to help families move from homelessness to a place of permanent housing and independence.

We just celebrated a holiday that memorialized our nation's independence from a system that was failing us. It is a fitting reminder that each one of our moms and her children are in shelter because at some point systems in society or government or in their lives fell apart and people failed to fully recognize that they existed and they mattered.

To the contrary, the work of our shelter directors makes it clear that all 4,700 people who will have slept with us last night matter. They are seen, they are known, and we believe that with focused assistance and the collective support of our shelter directors - whose own tireless efforts too often go unacknowledged - these families will achieve success and personal independence.