The Bowery Mission:
Loving Actively through Hospitality and Compassion
Concrete beds in cardboard houses line the city sidewalks.
Tattered blankets, fast food remnants,
The smell of rusty, wet scaffolding.
Black plastic trash bags hold all the Universe.
Watching with heavy eyes through subway grate steam
until the suffocation of invisibility settles in.
They turn away from the lights of the street,
turn their backs on the world and endure a restless sleep.
Each night, thousands of unsheltered homeless sleep on the streets of NYC and over 65,000 sleep in city shelters.1 Often, homelessness is accepted as a ubiquitous and expected background of daily life in the city, just like taxi cabs and neon signs. Encounters with panhandling and outbursts from mental illness make homelessness and poverty visible and uncomfortable – something evoking fear.
The Bowery Mission steps directly and unquestioningly into this, fiercely bringing their core value of “Love Actively” to life. Since 1872 this organization has exemplified love as action through compassionate care – offering free meals, clothing, showers, and a place to sleep for anyone in need of hospitality.
From humble beginnings in a small wooden building, to multiple sites in New York City helping those in need, The Bowery Mission served over 250,000 meals, provided over 55,000 nights of shelter, and over 20,000 articles of clothing in 20222. Sweat equity that builds relationships and restores communities.
In addition to these emergency services, they offer residential and transitional programs such as long-term residential support, psychological counseling, addiction recovery, educational and life classes, vocational mentoring, job training, certification programs and more.
I had volunteered at both their Bowery and Tribeca campuses, helping serve meals to those in need. This particular morning we were serving a hot breakfast with eggs, bacon, French toast, fruit, pastry, and coffee, to both the residents in the Bowery program and hundreds of homeless who came regularly to get a solid meal.
Clients in their programs come from all walks of life and are all ages. They all have a common denominator – life’s circumstances brought them to very hard times. Some lost jobs and were unable to find new ones so were evicted, some battle alcoholism and drug addiction, some left abusive family situations, some battle mental illness. There are many stories of trauma and pain. The Bowery Mission promotes the flourishing of New Yorkers by helping work through that trauma and pain and overcoming homelessness and marginalization. Their programs care for the whole person – body, mind and spirit.
While serving breakfast we were able to speak and connect with the people who had come for a hot meal. One client told me the Bowery team members and I were the first people to have a conversation with them in over 24 hours. On the streets, they said, “…no one looks us in the eye or speaks to us.” Another client told me they look forward to regular breakfast meals at The Bowery because… “It’s nice to know there’s someone who loves me.”
Building bridges through hospitality and compassion means the world becomes a little less brutal for the clients for that moment, and by getting to work with the homeless and build human relationships, I live with a little less fear because they are less invisible and unknown.
You can read more about the amazing history of The Bowery Mission, make a donation to support their programs, or find out how to volunteer here: Donate, Volunteer or Learn More to Help the Homeless & Hungry | The Bowery Mission
- Statistics for NYC Homeless comes from: How many total people are homeless in NYC? – Coalition For The Homeless
- Statistics come from The Bowery Mission’s site: Homelessness & Poverty in New York City | The Bowery Mission