As Covid-19 created an urgent public health need in overcrowded homeless shelters, the Mayor moved thousands of unhoused New Yorkers into hotels in April 2020. As part of this initiative, between May and July 2020, 283 residents from multiple congregate shelters were moved to Upper West Side (UWS) hotels. However, a segment of the Upper West Side community publicly objected to the arrival of these new neighbors. In response, the Revson Foundation proudly supported UWS Open Hearts as they came together to voice compassion and provide direct support to shelter residents.
UWS Open Hearts formed a coalition composed of diverse community members—business owners, parents, advocates, students, seniors, clergy members—who saw marginalized and stigmatized individuals in need and wanted to offer support. They started supportive chalking events, donation drives, and community education, soon forming direct relationships with shelter residents and their service providers. They became engaged in the public debate over the UWS hotels and assisted in coordinating a public response by shelter residents in support of their rights to not be forcibly displaced. Their work is premised on the idea that a welcoming environment rooted in empathy, compassion, and respect—along with a commitment to amplifying the voices of those experiencing housing insecurity—creates deep, meaningful connections between neighbors regardless of race, income, or housing status.
Open Hearts provides a promising and unique antidote to prevalent NIMBYism and the particularly acrimonious debate that can prevent the creation of emergency shelter, supportive housing, and even affordable housing. In 2020 alone, they provided direct community support for hundreds of shelter residents at four temporary hotel shelters and led an effective public relations and policy strategy to prevent their displacement and change the public narrative.
A 2021 grant from the Revson Foundation is allowing Open Hearts to replicate their approach in five other neighborhoods, providing these communities with the tools to welcome homeless neighbors and advocate for housing justice in their own backyards. The result could be a new model for community building and for providing people experiencing homelessness with the resources they need and the care they deserve.
Learn more about the Open Hearts Initiative here: https://openheartsinitiative.org