Our Women’s Homeless Shelter
Our shelter has been in operation since 1985, when Rabbi Marshall Meyer — together with clergy around the city — heeded Mayor Koch’s call for a religious response to the needs of a growing homeless population. Today, as a part of the Emergency Shelter Network (ESN), which consists of close to 50 faith communities that supplement and offer an alternative to the city shelter system, our homeless shelter provides food and overnight lodging for up to 10 female homeless guests, Sunday through Thursday all year round. The shelter is operated in partnership with the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew (SPSA).
Becoming a shelter volunteer is an act of great devotion and generosity, one that grows out of imperatives that our religious traditions consider a mitzvah and a sacred duty.
Our set up and sleepover volunteers come from BJ, SPSA, and other local community organizations. We work with Hebrew School and B’nai Mitzvah families as well; it’s a wonderful opportunity for middle school and high school students to volunteer with their parents. In 2012, we established a partnership with our Hebrew School to provide meals two to three times a month for the shelter, which continues to be a great way for students to get involved. It takes the entire community’s participation to maintain the BJ/SPSA Homeless Shelter and we are always looking for new volunteers to join the effort.
Volunteers are needed to prepare and bring dinner, set up the shelter (7:00 to 9:00 pm), or sleep overnight (9:00 pm to 7:00 am). Each shelter volunteer receives a copy of the BJ/SPSA Shelter Manual, which is updated every year with important information on our policies and procedures. If you are interested in volunteering, we will train you and pair you with an experienced volunteer to get you started.
Our guests come to us from The Olivieri Drop-In Center for Homeless Adults, which is run by Urban Pathways and contracted by the City of New York. At The Olivieri Drop-In Center for Homeless Adults, located near Penn Station, those in need are assigned a case manager and screened before joining our shelter community to ensure a safe environment for all—guests and volunteers alike. From Oliveri, guests arrive at our shelter by bus each night, and return to Oliveri via the same route in the morning. At this drop-in center, our guests receive a health screening including a TB test, social services and help with job training, and job and housing placement. Our guests often stay with us up to a year or more, depending on their circumstances. Most of them are waiting to find more permanent housing solutions while working full-time (sometimes multiple jobs), going to school, and/or working with case managers at Olivieri to get back on their feet.
On Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, our shelter is housed in the social hall at the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew (SPSA) on 86th Street; on Mondays and Tuesday, it is located in Frankel Hall at B’nai Jeshurun. Volunteers are paired to work as a team for each shelter shift. On the Set-Up Shift from 7:00-9:00PM two volunteers set up beds, serve a small meal, maintain the storage closet and interact with the guests. Then on the Sleep-Over Shift from 9:00PM-7:00AM two volunteers sleep over, supervise, help with a light breakfast, collect linens, and put away beds in the morning. Each night a food donor provides a fresh cooked meal for guests. Meals served at SPSA can be cooked at home or in the SPSA kitchen. Meals at B’nai Jeshurun must be kosher style and prepared in our kosher kitchen or brought in from a certified kosher caterer or restaurant.
The shelter would not be able to function without the hard work and dedication of our volunteer leadership team comprised of three Co-Chairs, BJ Members Dava Schub and Liz Weiss and SPSA Member Jim Melchiorre. In addition, five nightly coordinators maintain volunteer rosters for each night of the week, making sure that we have two volunteers for each set up shift and two volunteers for each sleepover shift. Lastly, our food donor coordinator ensures that a fresh and healthy meal is available to our shelter guests every night. Our team works closely together to train and recruit new volunteers and ensure our shelter runs smoothly each night we are open.