This month, you might have seen Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen mentioned in a New York Times article. The article detailed the life of Martial Simon, the man accused of shoving Michelle Go in front of a subway train. While the article states that Martial Simon was familiar to many of the guests at Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, he was not someone our staff had known, and he hadn’t visited Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen in years.
The article goes on to detail the broken mental health system of New York City and the ways in which that system has failed. Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen is a byproduct of this ongoing crisis in New York City – we strive to serve those who need our help in any way that we can. Our staff was not asked to comment as part of the New York Times article, but many wanted to join the conversation. Their thoughts and comments are below:
Michael Ottley, the Chief Operating Officer here at Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, reflected on the New York Times article, and what we do here to keep our community safe: “I wish that the New York Times had spoken to our staff in addition to our guests. The article focused on the systemic challenges that New York City, and the country, faces, especially the major lack of mental health facilities in our city, but by mentioning Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen in the first sentence of the article, it has ignited a controversy in our neighborhood, instead of bringing light to the important issue of the lack of funding for critical programs. We always want to be a good neighbor as the Soup Kitchen, and we’re proud to say that we have great partnerships with many of our neighbors. Penn South Seniors, P.S. 33, the Elliott Chelsea Houses, the Fulton Houses, and Avenues: The World School are all community members that we work with on a regular basis, and we partner with many of the companies that have offices in Chelsea. We are both a safe haven and a sanctuary, and we prioritize the safety and well-being of our staff, volunteers, and other community members. During the pandemic, we added two security guards to monitor outside our building, and we continue to evaluate our safety and security, and adjust as needed to keep our community safe.”
Steve Fanto, the Manager of Volunteer and Community Services, reflected on his experience reading the article: “After 23 years of experience welcoming homeless men and women that line up outside soup kitchens, I read this article with great interest. Lunch guests of the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen consist of a wide range of people facing many different circumstances. A subset of them suffer from mental illness. I’m glad for articles like these shining a light on important issues, such as the lack of support for people struggling with mental health problems. As problematic as the issues raised in this article are, imagine how much worse they would be without a safe haven and a hot lunch when needed. Thank goodness for entities like Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen for providing this support.”
Jay Alfaro, our Manager of Social Services, shared how challenging it can be for our guests to access the services they need, and how important it is to show compassion to all people. “For a lot of people, they’re in a revolving door of going to the hospital, getting temporary help, being released from the hospital, and just ending up in the same situation months later. Mental health services aren’t being paired with human services, where you’re building a support system. That’s why, at Holy Apostles, we try to build that support system. I always want our guests to know that I’m here to help—I try to refer them to the right people, and then I always follow up and help them navigate the system. Because if someone in need doesn’t have help navigating the system, it can be impossible to get the support they need. The system is built in a way that everyone needs help navigating it, and it’s important to remember that. If you can help, why wouldn’t you try to? It can be as simple as helping someone understand paperwork or donating a sweater to someone who doesn’t have one. We all need to remember that we’re all human and showing a little compassion can go a long way.”
Nichole Guerra, the Director of Development & Communications here, worries that permanent housing solutions continue to be an afterthought when addressing homelessness and mental health crises in New York City. “The New York Times article focused a lot on the role that hospitals play for people who are struggling with mental illness and homelessness, but hospitals alone cannot be the solution. It’s true that discharging people with complex behavioral health problems without any aftercare planning doesn’t help anyone. But when someone is living on the streets, who is the hospital supposed to coordinate with prior to discharging someone? This isn’t something that is specific to New York. It’s happening all over the country, and hospitals in other major cities are joining forces with human service providers and local government to invest in housing solutions that are coupled with wrap-around supports and care coordination. Look at Chicago – they’ve created a flexible housing pool that connects people to stable housing and the supportive services they need to improve health outcomes. That’s just one example of stakeholders coming together from various sectors to create new approaches to ending homelessness. If others can do it, why can’t the great City of New York?”
The Rev. Dr. Anna Pearson, the Executive Director of Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, shared her thoughts on the work we do here: “People come to Holy Apostles for so many different reasons, and it is an honor to walk with them for as long as they need accompaniment. Had the New York Times reached out to us to comment, I would have emphasized that the work we do here is a byproduct of the broken systems which the NYT described. If the social safety net and our systems of care were fully resourced, places like soup kitchens and homeless shelters would not be needed at the same scale as they are today. I long for the day that places like our soup kitchen are no longer needed, because homelessness and hunger have been eradicated. But as long as there is a need, we will continue offering an oasis of connectedness and support in Manhattan … not just for those who are nourished by the food we serve, but for all the volunteers, staff and supporters who open their hearts so generously in solidarity with people who struggle. Our common humanity expands when we walk together through difficult times, and we are committed to welcoming anyone and everyone who wants to be part of that process.”