If the past year has proven anything, it’s that change is constant.
The COVID-19 pandemic turned our lives upside down. We donned masks and gloves, stayed six feet apart and disinfected everything from deliveries to doorknobs, continually adapting as science taught us how to stay safe. The frontline staff at Volunteers of America-Greater New York responded like true heroes, showing up day after day, 24/7. Despite concerns for their health, they kept the doors of our 66 programs open for the 11,000 men, women and children who count on us for housing and supportive services each year.
Myung J. Lee
President and CEO,
Volunteers of America- Greater New York
Chairman of the Board of Directors, Volunteers of America-Greater New York
Volunteers of America-Greater New York (VOA-Greater New York) is an anti-poverty organization that aims to end homelessness in the metropolitan New York area by 2050 by providing housing, health and wealth-building services to our neighbors who are experiencing, or are at imminent risk of, homelessness.
We are a refuge for families escaping domestic violence. We help people experiencing homelessness find permanent housing. We keep thousands of the most vulnerable New Yorkers—including veterans, individuals living with HIV/AIDS, adults with behavioral health issues or a history of substance use, and older adults with limited incomes—safe in our supportive housing residences. We prepare at-risk youth for the transition out of foster care and into mature, independent adulthood. And our preschool in the Bronx for children with developmental delays and disabilities provides the educational and therapeutic services students need for academic success.
We are a member of the national organization, Volunteers of America Inc., which is one of the oldest and largest faith-based human services nonprofits in the country, founded in New York City in 1896.
When COVID-19 first hit New York City in March 2020, the staff at Schwartz Assessment Shelter (SAS) on Ward’s Island, our dormitory-style shelter for men experiencing homelessness, were suddenly faced with an urgent problem: how to keep 335 men safe in a shelter where beds are only three feet apart.
The work of our maintenance teams—keeping buildings clean and operating smoothly—has always been essential, but during the pandemic, it became a matter of life and death.
Cindy will never forget the moment Michael asked her to marry him in 2017. Handsome and loving, he was her soulmate.
Cindy, who struggles with mental illness, has been receiving clinical interventions through VOA-Greater New York’s Community Support Services (CSS) in Middlesex County, New Jersey, since 2004. CSS provides a range of services to individuals with behavioral health issues to help create stability so they can live as independently as possible.
After the engagement, staff helped Cindy and Michael move into a one-bedroom apartment in the community. The pair loved to travel and go to comedy clubs. In 2018, they adopted their cat, Crouton, from a local shelter. Michael was very caring toward Cindy, helping her cope with her psychiatric symptoms and reminding her to take her medication. They were happy.
But when the pandemic struck, Cindy’s life was thrown into chaos.
Stability and consistency are important for children with developmental delays, including those with autism spectrum disorder, like many of the students at the Bronx Early Learning Center (BELC), our special education preschool program. For them, the pandemic was exceptionally disruptive.
But, like the superheroes they are, teachers and staff at the BELC rallied to keep students engaged and their families supported.
George, 61, has lived at Rose House, one of our supportive single-room occupancy (SRO) programs in Manhattan for nearly 30 years. Fiercely independent and proud, he has always kept to himself, never getting too close to neighbors or staff, despite their many attempts to invite him to movie night in the common room, or connect him to community services.
In the early days of the pandemic, George became very sick and was transported back and forth to the emergency room by ambulance several times.
Fearing he had COVID, George was terrified.
Linda*, 44, never imagined she would one day become homeless. She had worked hard to establish her career in the field of healthcare. She lived in a large house and enjoyed watching her teenage daughter thrive in school.
But life at home was difficult. Over the years, her partner became physically abusive—a situation that grew worse with the onset of the pandemic. Though Linda was an essential worker and never stopped going to work, she was spending more time in close proximity to her partner during evenings and weekends. The uncertainty and stress of the situation caused tensions to rise at home and the abuse intensified.
Support comes in all shapes and sizes. Our staff were ready to do whatever they could to keep clients—including Michael—engaged, comfortable, and moving forward.
The work of Volunteers of America-Greater New York is essential and we can’t do it alone. Our partners, and the community, were there for us.
This year tested and inspired us. Now, under new leadership and with the full commitment of our Board of Directors, we look forward to a new chapter for VOA-Greater New York as we continue the process of refining our strategic vision and focusing our mission on ending homelessness in the Greater New York area by 2050. We are excited to share more about this soon.
In the meantime, we continue to forge ahead, as more people are getting vaccinated and our community is rebounding from a year unlike any other.
We look forward to new beginnings, just like the 122 older adults who will move into East Clarke Place Senior Residence, our new affordable housing development in the Bronx for seniors with limited incomes or those who are chronically homeless.
And we count on you to be by our side, to help us continue the life-saving work that was demonstrated throughout this report and that we have continued to do over the last 125 years.
Please donate to VOA-Greater New York today and make a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable in our community.