Every day, thousands of Harlemites and New Yorkers live on the streets and subways with a lack of access to medical care, including mental health or substance abuse services.
There is a day in August designed to raise awareness of their plight and provide much-needed healthcare services.
August 9th was Healthcare for the Homeless Day and The Salvation Army of Greater New York wants to highlight the ongoing needs of our city’s unhoused individuals.
Some services the organization offers on a year-round basis range from Nutritious meals served at local Salvation Army community centers to free showers in partnership with Shower Power to a nonprofit committed to providing self-care resources, hygiene kits, and access to mobile showers, to Access to cooling centers when the city is under heat advisory (provided by The Salvation Army in partnership with the New York City Emergency Management), to Primary Care, Behavioral Health, Dentistry, to Pediatric Care in partnership with Care For The Homeless to the Opioid overdose prevention program at six locations and through mobile outreach.
The Salvation Army is also part of the Rescue Alliance, a coalition of New York City non-profit organizations committed to serving New Yorkers experiencing homelessness.
Member organizations include Bowery Mission, City Relief, and Hope for New York.
Zack Hodgson is Emergency Services Director of The Salvation Army of Greater New York Division, who has deep, hands-on experience working with New York’s unhoused community.
Zack runs a program that takes steps with their partners for high-impact steps corporations, nonprofits, and individuals can take to support our neighbors in need.
Here’s an email interview we had with Zack:
Harlem World Magazine: Who are the people we call the “unhoused,” the “homeless” (are they moms and dads, kids, family, black folks, white folks, etc.,)?
Zack Hodgson: According to the NYC Department of Homeless Services, at the end of 2021, there were over 18k single adults and over 10k families temporarily housed in city shelters. Of those individuals, 86% are people of color.
In recent days, more than 4k asylum seekers from our country’s southern border have also been housed in these shelters.
HWM: Every day is Homeless Day, but what are some great ways to celebrate the annual Healthcare for the Homeless Day?
ZH: Volunteering with a trusted organization providing services for our unhoused neighbors is a great way to celebrate. Visit salvationarmyny.org to learn more of the volunteer opportunities of our organization including serving at our community emergency food programs.
HWM: The Salvation Army, the Bowery Mission, City Relief, and Hope for New York are doing great work, what can corporations, nonprofits, and individuals do to support our unhoused neighbors?
ZH: Join the work of these organizations through volunteering or providing needed financial resources if you are able.
As one example, each February, the Rescue Alliance (including the organizations listed) coordinates a large outreach event called Don’t Walk By.
On each of the four Saturdays of February, hundreds of trained volunteers canvass the streets and subway platforms of Manhattan engaging with guests and inviting them to dinner.
When a guest arrives at dinner, additional services are available including distribution of needed items (eg. backpacks, hygiene items, etc.), intake for additional resources, medical services, and much more.
HWM: You could work in corporate America, or have your own business, where did you get the inspiration to work at The Salvation Army?
ZH: The opportunity to work with like-minded people toward something bigger than ourselves is a large part of my underlying desire to continue working with an organization whose mission is to meet human need without discrimination.
HWM: When did you realize that you have the right job, was there an “A-ha moment”?
ZH: There are several moments over many years that remind you of the purpose of your work. One such moment was the first time I experienced the dinner atmosphere during Don’t Walk By at our Harlem Temple community center.
Walking into that space, I recognized the shared desire of all of the partners involved to provide dignified support to our struggling neighbors.
HWM: When you are in Harlem what are some of your fave places (food, shop, art, etc.,)?
ZH: In recent years, much of my time in Harlem has been spent at our Harlem Temple community center (540 Lenox Ave) whether that be just as the pandemic began to support a partnership providing free showers and hygiene services to our unhoused friends, witnessing weekly Saturday outreach of our partners at City Relief that occurs just on the sidewalk in front of our facility, or helping to coordinate the annual Don’t Walk By outreach.
HWM: Why can’t we convert the shelters into proper homes for the “unhoused,” and the “homeless”?
ZH: Solving the homelessness crisis in New York City will require these kinds of creative ideas and the partnership of the government, nonprofit, and private sectors.
Very simply, the solution to homelessness is increased access to affordable and just housing.
HWM: How did you celebrate Healthcare for the Homeless Day?
ZH: In the midst of another heat wave, we are helping to coordinate access to cooling centers provided at several of our community center facilities.
We know that our friends living on the street without access to air conditioning are more vulnerable to heat illness and even death.
We also know that simply providing space in an air-conditioned facility and providing a cold cup of water can make all the difference.
HWM: Thank you, Zack.
Check out more HWM Interviews here.