By Jessica Easthope
As the day gets underway at St. John’s Bread & Life it’s a mixed bag, both inside and out.
The people waiting on line to get food from the pantry and a hot meal come from all walks of life. Nearly 300,000 of them will get food here throughout the year – many are homeless.
“I believe this place exists for people in crisis to come to and providing a concrete solution to people that’s how I express my faith and as Catholics, as Christians we are meant to care for the least of those among us,” said Sr. Marie Sorenson, associate executive director.
Sr. Marie Sorenson and Sr. Caroline Tweedy are in charge of Bread & Life’s operation. Both have experienced clients in mental crisis. If they feel someone on line is a danger to themselves or others, they call 9-1-1.
“9-1-1 will come with an ambulance and we try and talk that person into getting the help they need and sometimes they refuse it and we have to respect that but we do try our best to support them in whatever way we can,” said Sr. Caroline.
But soon they might not be able to refuse help. Late last year, Mayor Eric Adams announced an expansion of resources and guidance to a directive to involuntarily hospitalize homeless in crisis.
“I know some people may look at what we’re doing as trying to take away the rights of people, no we’re not,” said Mayor Adams.
It’s a measure Bread & Life knows is necessary in some cases.
“We’re not saying throw people in jail and lock away the key, we’re saying secure them so they can get the help they need,” said Sr. Marie.
Bread & Life also offers social services to its clients. But supportive housing with life skills training and employment assistance on site is ideal because they’ve seen it work.
“If they’re put back into the community like they say they’re going to do, who is going to support them, we need supportive housing, we need professionals to work with them,” said Sr. Caroline.
“Supportive housing is the gold standard, a number of our clients have been able to access supportive housing and it’s been a lifesaver for them, they’ve been able to get off the streets and out of the shelter and live in a very safe, secure environment,” Sr. Marie said.
According to the Mayor’s office, New York State’s mental hygiene law allows Mayor Adams to issue this kind of a directive. Though first responders and outreach workers have the legal authority to bring someone in for treatment, only a clinician can determine whether or not they need to be hospitalized.