How Catholics Are Working to Combat the Highest Homelessness Rates in NYC Since Great Depression

Tags: Currents Brooklyn, NY, Catholic Worker, Catholics, Coronavirus, Crux, Faith, Homeless, Media, Poverty, Queens, NY

By Jessica Easthope

Homelessness in New York City is at the highest level since the Great Depression. It’s a reality hard to ignore.

“I’ve been coming here since the pandemic first hit and the only thing you see on the streets of Manhattan is homeless people,” said Geoff Turf, a commuter who comes through Penn Station in Midtown, Manhattan daily.

Compounded with the coronavirus crisis, the issue is sparking concerns about the future of New York City and the future homeless people face if they don’t get the help they need.

“We moved everything outside around March 16 and our numbers just exploded, quickly,” said James Murphy, a volunteer with The Catholic Worker on the Lower East Side.

James has seen the influx first hand. He says before the pandemic they were serving 120 people a day. Now they serve more than 250. But more than hot meals, James says the goal is to dish out some dignity.

“Get to know people, that personal interaction is also needed beyond money and beyond standing behind a stainless steel table and handing out food,” James said.

Though meaningful, the Catholic Worker’s efforts only help a small percentage. According to the most recent counts, 132,660 men, women and children were sleeping in homeless shelters across the city. That number doesn’t account for those who sleep on the street.

In Midtown, commuters at Penn Station say the situation is heartbreaking.

“There’s a lot more homelessness, it’s sad to see what’s going on with our homeless in New York, I think they’ve been forgotten,” said Cynthia Legra, another commuter.

But the people coming to the Catholic Worker everyday won’t let the volunteers forget: lives depend on the calling they have to help the poor.

“It’s our responsibility as Catholics to help those in need,” James said. “It’s a foundation of our faith, there’s no doubt about that.”