The facts about homelessness in New York City are sobering, to say the least.
According to the Coalition for the Homeless, homelessness in the United States’ largest city is now at levels not seen since the Great Depression. In August 2020, the Coalition says, “there were 57,660 homeless people, including 12,866 homeless families with 19,006 homeless children, sleeping each night in the New York City municipal shelter system.” That’s a 56% increase over the past 10 years. Families with children account for roughly two in three people experiencing homelessness in the city.
These numbers actually sell the problem short. After all, many people experiencing homelessness don’t end up in shelters consistently. They stay with friends or family members, sleep outdoors, or otherwise remain invisible to authorities.
This year has been especially difficult for homeless individuals and families in New York City. The city’s economy remains deeply wounded by the first wave of coronavirus infections and deaths this spring. Though necessary to mitigate the loss of life, the weekslong lockdown ordered by city and state authorities is likely to hinder economic activity for months to come.
If there’s any glimmer of hope to be found in this tragic state of affairs, it’s in the groundswell of good works done by everyday folks associated with government institutions, secular nonprofits, religious organizations, and informal mutual aid networks. We, together, are doing our best to help those most in need — despite trying circumstances and long odds.
A recent article in Vents Magazine, “V1 Church Donates $300,000 Worth of Gifts to NYC-Based Shelters in Last Three Years,” describes the path one New York City faith organization has forged in this disorienting “new normal.” Led by Pastor Mike Signorelli, a former atheist, V1 Church can legitimately claim to have developed a new model for helping the homeless in its home city.
That model is refreshingly simple. Read on for an overview of the principles guiding that model and what V1 Church’s success means for the future of the fight against homelessness in the nation’s largest city.
They’ve Established Generosity as a Core Congregational Value
It’s right there in the headline: V1 Church’s members donated more than $300,000 in gifts to homeless shelters across New York City. That’s an astounding sum for a low-profile Queens church with a diverse but largely working-class membership. The secret is the centering of generosity as a core value of the congregation and the belief that all should give back according to their means.
They Bring Inspiration to the Forefront
Congregants must be inspired to give back, of course. That’s where Pastor Signorelli’s life story comes into play. Signorelli is a reformed atheist from the Midwest — someone who came to New York City, and into a life of faith, only after a winding journey through self-doubt and self-discovery. Pastor Signorelli inspires his congregants to follow paths of their own, knowing that these routes will lead many into spiritually abundant lives of generosity.
They’re Proud to Bring Out the Best in Everyone
Giving back is just one of the many values that the church finds worthy of celebration. Signorelli and his team are proud to bring out the best in everyone, recognizing full well that “the best” means different things to different people. For those who reach their full potential through good works, such as donating goods and funds to homeless shelters, V1 Church is a natural home.
They Take “Family Values” Seriously
V1 Church has a simple but powerful motto: “Come once, and you’re our guest. Come twice, and you’re our family.” This motto infuses the institution’s work in the community and anchors its congregation in a spirit of fellowship. When the time comes to share their gifts with the outside world, the “family” responds beyond all expectations.
They Believe Everyone Deserves a Home, Spiritually and Physically
It bears repeating that Pastor Signorelli was an atheist before he was the founder and lead pastor of a mission-driven church. Signorelli knows what it’s like to cast about for a home, spiritual or otherwise. His “family” does too.
They Take Their Message and Mission to Those Who Need to Hear It Most
Though modest in numbers and resources, the church strives to be a part of the communities it serves. Crucial to this value are the church’s multiple locations. Unlike some congregations that retreat into remote, imposing edifices, V1 Church isn’t shy about having a visible, enthusiastic public presence.
They Won’t Be Discouraged By Adversity
Times are tough right now. No one disputes this, least of all Pastor Signorelli and his congregation. What sets this church apart in this pandemic year is a conviction of purpose — a relentlessness, really — that keeps them focused on what matters most. Right now, that means helping those in dire need.
V1 Church Is Changing What It Means to Give Back. What’s Your Organization Doing to Keep Up?
Yes, V1 Church has developed a new model for helping homeless shelters in New York City. In an impressively short period of time and without limitless resources, this low-profile faith institution has done amazing things.
Let’s step back a bit, though, shall we? Impressive and inspiring as its mission is, it’s not unique to its time or place. There’s nothing about New York City in the year 2020, notwithstanding how tragic and odd this year has been for New Yorkers, that prevents other faith organizations from applying V1 Church’s model in their own communities.
On the contrary. Review the church’s model again and it’ll become clear (if it hasn’t already) that the greatest thing about its approach is its simplicity. Any inspired faith leader can adopt the principles that have made its efforts so successful throughout the five boroughs.
Needless to say, that’s wonderful news for the millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet right now, not to mention those currently experiencing homelessness. We’re all in this together — which means we all have a role to play in building a brighter, more equitable, more inclusive future.
Let’s get to work. And let’s not forget the shining example set by Pastor Signorelli, his outreach team, and his joyful congregants. Now more than ever, the world needs a splash of good news.