Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Church of St. Vincent Ferrer

Street Seens: Uncle Albert Lives


And even if his name is Mr. Turvy, (who knew there were so many magical Uncles in the six sequels P.L. Travers wrote from 1934 to 1989!) I firmly believe he is the Mary Poppins relative who can be credited with the rare gift of being able to fix “everything but broken hearts.” And more to the point, I have evidence that he is alive and well and working in this urban village’s zip code.

Here’s how you can recognize the aforementioned “fixer.” When you have an issue that has no obvious “go to” person to address it, you decide on a sort of hunch, that you will listen to the third-party endorsements of your neighbors. Or you might just decide to launch a test balloon to see whether Marco or Nick or Lyle might have some talent developed in their primary businesses that would prepare them not to laugh when you come to them with an unpredictable request.

nick1Nick Bender of Ciel Bicycles

In short, these are the “tip-offs” that a local entrepreneur is living proof that Uncle Albert lives. And better still that he can invest that skill in providing unexpected solutions to your problems. Here are some examples. A person in this village depends upon well engineered crutches to support the mobility of her amazingly active life of teaching and socializing. Now here’s the surprise “Uncle Albert” effect. She told me that one of the vital secrets for her peace of mind and security is found in the unlikely precincts of a bicycle shop. A bicycle shop?

Having been launched into the realm of the unexpected by her fulsome praise of the bicycle shop and its proprietor, I had a lightbulb moment. I can’t imagine how the cycling expert has helped my neighbor. But I can imagine how a cycling guru might be able to solve a problem closer to home. Now that I look at them with my neighbor’s insight, I notice that the cables that allow a bicycle to put on the brakes have a remarkable similarity to those that keep a walking device from rolling down the length of a city bus, destroying its value as a defense mechanism. The wise advice of a practical therapist was that such a device was a handy way to protect against the extreme enemies of navigation to be met on the streets of this urban village. It functions as a sort of “wake up call” to distracted walkers focused on texting and makes sidewalks ravaged by subway construction less challenging.

ciel interior

That’s what brought me to Ciel Bicycle Stores to meet Nick Bender, the Uncle Albert of two-wheeled devices and all their supporting mechanics. Believing it was worth a try, I stopped at the shop on East 65th Street and wondered aloud whether the bicycle/rollator relationship was worth pursuing. Fortunately, I thereby found by just opening the door, a Brown University alumnus who decided to apply his pre-med degree to a more varied set of mobility issues. While I sat, and became the center of a most energetic frolic of the resident French Bulldog Pogli, and his current amour, a 4-month old kitten, Nick worked his magic and I set off with my reborn/re-secured “Rolls Royce.”

On a return trip to take some Android photos, I found Nick at work on what he said was his favorite sort of project, one he describes as “finding a way to solve a problem for which there is no easy solution.” Nick was at work rebuilding a gear changing mechanism that the manufacturer placed at a lower level and the bike owner wanted to have nearer the handle bars. But that would not be achievable by just moving the gear from point A to point B. So, Nick figured out that he would have to build a new gear mechanism from scratch.   He had just achieved that when I visited Ciel. That’s the thing about “Uncle Alberts”: they specialize in creative answers to unexpected questions. So, evolution moves on and the son of two physicians imagines and performs highly imaginative operations. www.cielbikes.com/

marcoMarco Andrade of Marco Shoe Repair

I call Marco “the Uncle Albert” of shoe repair. Like Mary Poppins’ uncle he seems truly to be able to fix everything but broken hearts. And I wouldn’t rule that out, given his unfailing “can do” attitude. When his own heart was broken by the fact that his beloved dog Chulo’s walker dropped his leash when threatened by Upper East Side traffic, Chulo disappeared into the winter snow and traffic.

But true “Uncle Alberts” don’t retreat into regret. So, Marco prepared a flyer with Chulo’s photo, contact numbers and the promise of a “Good Reward,” and papered the streets and local newspapers with them. Many weeks later the phone rang and a kind woman who lived in the West Village reported that she had seen the ad, and thereby rejoiced that she had solved the mystery of how this obviously cherished pet had found his way to her door and would soon enjoy a homecoming. “Soon” was an understatement. Marco turned the key in his shop door and virtually flew the scores of blocks to reclaim a pal as resourceful as he.

Marco Andrade, the craftsman whose eponymous shoe repair establishment is to be found on Second Avenue near 63rd Street, descended from the Third Avenue shop presided over by his father. When Marco opted to move here from his native Ecuador with dreams of attending art school, his father urged him to pursue a different form of creativity. As one who had himself been first a mechanic and next a self-taught photographer, Marco’s father taught his son the shoemaker’s art. Although Marco now sketches and draws at every opportunity, he earns his living and his customer’s gratitude as an artist in repair and reconstruction.

I met Marco when I dared to present a handbag so ancient it could, if human, had qualified to vote. In its long life, the once elegant black cross body bag with just the right number of compartments, had visited dozens of airports and trade shows, freeing my hands and allowing me to negotiate the various challenges of life on the streets of our urban village and the mind-numbing demands of convention centers in more than a handful of states. Noting that Marco advertised an ability to “repaint” the soles of shoes that started life with a certain crimson designer panache (or any other you might prefer). Again, the phrase, “It may be worth a try” brought me in Marco’s door. And once again, I found a craftsman who didn’t laugh but threw himself into the miraculous transformation of a gently greying leather bag reborn as a glamorously black 21st century beauty.

marco shp

That was just the tip of the iceberg. When a well-meaning friend insisted that my walking companion of a “Rolls Royce” would indeed fit into the sleek trunk of her sleek little car and smilingly slammed down the trunk lid, I was left with a paraplegic. And then, you guessed it, Marco to the rescue. “I can fix that,” he said when “the patient” and I went to his shop to collect the shoes he had brought from torturous to downright comfy. And fix it, he did, revealing the unique combination of the mechanic’s skills and the artist’s eye that he inherited, and now advances every day. If this were a math formula, I would interrupt the narrative by noting: Point Two of the Uncle Albert Recognition standards: For him, nothing is impossible!

My discovery of another “Uncle Albert”, this one named Lyle, occurred when I first began writing Street Seens. I told our publisher that I was so curious about the gardens that “frame” my landmark parish Church of St. Vincent Ferrer. When she determined that I knew nothing about how any garden grows, she warned me that the creator of our nearby horticultural miracles did not seem to be eager for self-promotion; and she warned me that he might be more interested in speaking with his trees, shrubs and flowers than in being interviewed by me. Warned, but not deterred I approached Lyle Steele one August day and asked if he might consider answering a few questions about the genesis and flourishing of the gardens so many find enriching, inspiring and altogether amazing.

Uncle albert 3The Garden at the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer

I offered to put together a few questions he might consider. Not only did he not laugh at me and my amateur’s questions, but he returned to me multiple pages of pure gold, marked by everything from impish humor to sensitivity to the surprising description of what he called the “community” over which he presides, and how it challenges and rewards him. Having begun by saying it was like presiding over a group of mischievous school children, he amended the description to say that it was perhaps more like presiding over a community of homicidal sex maniacs, all bent on grabbling the most of sun, soil and space for themselves and their relentless drive to reproduce. That definitely got my attention. There it was: proof positive that I had found an “Uncle Albert” of garden design.

Like our other two, this “Uncle Albert” came to his current niche from a world far away: that of publishing in the prestigious world of Manhattan-based business media/publishing. I was learning that it takes bold and brave decisions to release one’s inner Uncle Albert. I will invite you to return to the archives of www.womanaroundtown.com to revisit the story that grew from a summertime exploration of his responses to my questions and his lyrical insight about the history and growth of the six gardens that are his gift to our urban village. (Maybe he illustrates why I associate the Uncle Albert gift with the laughing Ed Wynn character in the film Mary Poppins!)

Which brings us to a third tell-tale sign that you have encountered an Uncle Albert (even though his website reads www.lylesteelecustomgardens.com). He doesn’t laugh at you when you suggest exploring a new path of inquiry or discovery or doubt that he will find, plant and grow the “holy grail of lotus” on East 65th Street.

And like the other magical spirits portrayed here, he does deal in fixing everything, including broken hearts. I learned that recently, when he invited his list of email contacts to join him in a search for new homes for the two elegant Siamese-blend cats a dear friend had to part with when moving to an assisted living facility. The last time our paths crossed, he was braving the cold winter weather to meet with a potential adopter of his dear friend’s cats. May that hope have taken root and bloomed, as does all that he touches in the gardens that touch me and his grateful neighbors in our urban village.

Street Seens: St. Francis of Assisi and Chicago


Today’s conversation is about how a 20th Century Dominican Priest and world respected sculptor, went into a studio and created a Jubilant portrait in bronze of the 13th Century founder of the Franciscans that is currently presiding over Chicago’s Water Tower Place in the office of a Jesuit University’s Vice Chancellor, John Costello, SJ.

But don’t mistake it for one of those predictable jokes that begins, “a priest and a rabbi went into a bar, and………”

That is not to say that Thomas McGlynn, O.P. would not have savored the humor of how his study of Saint Francis, begun in the last few years of his amazing life, continues to surprise so many years later.

statue St. Francis of Assisi by Thomas McGlynn, O.P.

I first became aware of Father Mc Glynn’s work at my parish Church and his, at the time of his death in 1977 – the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer on 66th Street and Lexington Avenue, in the “urban village” we explore together in our weekly Street Seens.

I saw the astounding Baptismal Font he created for the church’s Baptistry, where it sits in a circular room on a floor whose marble undulates with stylized waves that suggest the waters of the River Jordan where John the Baptist conducted his baptisms of repentance, one of them for his cousin Jesus.

On the day in 1933 when he sailed for Rome to study art, a New York Times photograph of Father McGlynn, in Dominican habit, showed him simulating the last strokes that completed the sculptures of angels supporting the Baptismal Font. A different and more deeply human face, also sculpted by McGlynn, is in the nearby shrine of St. Martin de Porres, the gentle young 17th Century Peruvian who came to the Dominican community in Lima as a porter and cooperating brother, too modest to aspire to the priesthood.

McGlynnThomas McGlynn, O.P.

Not many yards away in the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer, Our Lady of Fatima may look familiar. With good reason.  By the time his fame had begun to spread, Father McGlynn was commissioned by a company that requested images of saints from respected artists that they deemed worthy of copying for wide distribution. Father McGlynn agreed and opted to do, among others, a study of Our Lady of Fatima.  Someone who saw it offered to have the sculptor travel to Portugal to meet the surviving visionary, Sister Lucy, and listen to her recount her eyewitness experience.

In the course of this rare encounter she told him her personal memory of how “the lady” appeared to her and a companion, and she shared the experience of being visited by a gentle lady that urged them to be messengers of peace as their 20th Century world was erupting in revolution and war. Based on that testimony, Father McGlynn abandoned his original sculpture and created one faithful to Sister Lucy’s unique report. It has influenced many if not most of the Lady of Fatima images seen everywhere to this day.

Father McGlynn’s history included years when he lived in Pietrasanta, widely recognized as the ultimate center of marble sculpture. This is the town where Michelangelo motivated the building of a road to carry its pure and beautiful marble to his Rome and a wider world. In the place sought out by his great friend Jacques Lipchitz and other giants of modern sculpture “Padre Tom” became a fixture, a sort of beloved parish priest in the lives and the sensibilities of the people.

His sculptural works include popes, prophets, presidents and saints; biblical events and history’s giants that are to be found in collections around the globe.  Which, of course, brings us back to Chicago.  Pietrasanta’s “Padre Tom” had become known and respected by the designers who were preferred partners of builders and developers responsible for the installation of some of the creative designs of the most memorable urban fountains.

sketchThomas McGlynn’s Sketch for the  Central Court Fountain

One of these entered McGlynn’s life in the late 1960s, when William F. Hartnett, the owner of Lake Point Towers on Chicago’s famous Lake Shore Drive, began to pursue a dream. Hartnett hoped that his building’s central court fountain would become the place to have executed a unique tribute to Saint Francis of Assisi.

The poet sculptor McGlynn was commissioned to submit plans on how he might capture Hartnett’s dream. He began sketching plans, poems and drawings envisioning how he might create a Hymn of the Universe in words that portrayed the saint of the poor and of animals and all the glories of God’s creation.

Fortunately for us, Father McGlynn’s vision is preserved in the book Thomas McGlynn Priest and Sculptor.  In its pages, Saint Francis’ lines in his Canticle of the Creatures are shown with the preliminary sketches the sculptor made in the 1960s near the end of his life. In its pages, we see how the dreams of building owner and priest-sculptor converged as Hartnett’s hope began to take shape in sketches preserved in the book published in 1981 by Providence College Press.

In the sadly, out of print book by Dominican Richard A. (Father Ambrose) McAlister, O.P., we can see the early studies showing an exuberantly joyful Francis, created to be the central conductor figure in a symphonic sculpture.  Sandaled feet on tiptoe he stands as conductor, drawing together all creation’s glories. With baton raised and cincture unable to resist the momentum of his joy, Francis conducts a Hymn of the Universe.  Stretching to catch the music of “Brother Sun, Sister Moon and the Stars,” of a young woman, little children and a glorious population of animals and celestial beauties, he calls forth their beauty and harmony.

Hartnett’s dream failed to come to full reality, but not before an edition of ten 13-inch sculptures of Saint Francis, as Maestro, were completed.  Hartnett secured one of them to give as a gift to his Uncle Frank Pennino. Upon his death, Pennino bequeathed his Saint Francis to Loyola University Chicago’s Museum of Art (LUMA) for its Martin D’Arcy Gallery.

two viewsTwo views of St. Francis of Assisi by Thomas McGlynn

One day, when Father John Costello knew that the Mass he celebrated each day with a small community of LUC Law School students and faculty would be attended by a parishioner of St. Vincent Ferrer in New York (where the sculptor lay in state before his 1977 funeral Mass), he contacted the LUMA curator and secured a short-term loan of McGlynn’s Saint Francis to be displayed to the 21st Century worshippers.  That short term has now been extended to help realize the dream shared by both Hartnett and McGlynn that the generosity of the late Frank Pennino brought to new life.

In the words of his pro-tem host, Father Costello said of the LUMA figure kept near the Chicago venue of Hartnett’s dream, “Indeed he is the saint who came to visit, picked up the baton, went on the road briefly for Mass with visitors from his one-time NYC parish, and returned to the stage in my office where from the 15th floor overlooking the Water Tower throngs below, he continues to conduct. I’d hate to interrupt him….and am sure he’d appreciate a good review.

I have a feeling he’s getting just that from a Priest and Sculptor known to have had a delightfully wry sense of humor.

Opening photo: Tau wooden cross in shape of the letter t (religious symbol of St. Francis of Assisi). Bigstock by Shutterstock.

Woman Around Town wishes to thank Father John Maria Devaney, OP for his story “An Obedient Artist”  and for securing a loan of “Thomas McGlynn: Priest and Sculptor, ” written by Fr. Ambrose McAlister, O.P. and published by Providence College Press in 1981, from which images and references were drawn. And, of course, Father John Costello, SJ Jesuit host to the Franciscan Saint, who symbolizes the Dominican calling to serve as an itinerant preacher

Street Seens: Sidewalk Art to Look Up To


Mary Poppins and Bert used magic to create sidewalk art that opened a whole new world to the children and them. Courtesy of the artist they discovered wondrous new places and people that charmed, amazed and inspired.

st-vincent-ferrer-aisleChurch of St. Vincent Ferrer toward Great East Window

At absolutely no risk of overstatement I can say to all of us dwellers in our urban village who stroll the enclave of the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer (SVF), from 66th to Lexington and then east on 65th can enter a magical world of museum-quality sidewalk art every day of the week.

In the simple act of looking up at this National Historic Landmark Church, they will see a lavish gallery of Charles Jay Connick stained glass art created over more than three decades, beginning from around 1916 when the cornerstone of the Bertram Goodhue structure was laid. The architect imagined fine stained glass windows of the delicacy and refinement of those gracing classic Gothic churches like the iconic Cathedral at Chartres, as the perfect complement to his work in our urban village.

from-the-cancel-to-the-west-wallThe Organ Loft and Great West Window

When Connick was given the commission by the Dominican Prior he was, relatively speaking a “beginner: as his Boston studio was founded in 1913.  But his style was no doubt most attractive to both the Dominican Friars and their architect who would have found the delicacy of his work the perfect counterpoint to the massive Gothic Revival stone walls and tracery. That delicacy was one of Connick’s artistic signatures as was his use of blues that define so many of the windows of SVF. The lofty clerestory windows were placed to create what Connick calls “rivers of light and of color” that illuminate the interior from above. He revisits that theme in his notes and journals as well as his 1937 book Adventures in Light and Color.

dsc_8936_7_8_9_tonemappedThe center of the top of the Reredos 

By juxtaposing blue-dominant and red/gold-dominant windows he hoped to balance the effects of direct and indirect sunlight that occurred at different times of the day. What he learned at Chartres and elsewhere was the technique of painting on clear glass to achieve the subtle effects often lost in windows that are more opaque.

The decades-long collaboration of the Priors of SVF, the architect, and Connick is a story of respectful cooperation.  Some of the correspondence found in the Charles J. Connick Stained Glass Foundation Collection at MIT Libraries preserve exchanges like the one in which Connick comments on books about the Dominican Saint Albert the Great that the Prior had sent him and which fueled the creative vision embodied in the window that portrays that saint.

st-alber-the-great-windowSt. Albert the Great Window

A majority of the Clerestory windows feature saints set in the context of their contemporaries, their mentors and historic figures that influenced their lives and ministries.  They summarize the Order’s 800-year history and its relationship with New York. One of the surprises from history is a portrayal of Napoleon Bonaparte linked to the negative impact of the Napoleonic Wars that blocked the access of Bishop Luke Concannon who had been consecrated Bishop of New York, but who died before he could reach his see due to the blockade of the Port of Naples dictated by Napoleon. There is also the presence of the philosopher Aristotle (he’s the one with a green halo, versus the gold adorning angels and saints) as a figure in a window honoring the St. Albert the Great, teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas, whose philosophy and theology were strongly influenced by Aristotelian thought.

aristotle-window2Aristotle from St. Albert the Great Window (detail) 

The Catherine of Siena window honors the 14th Century Saint, who was a lay member of the Third Order of the Dominicans. She was philosopher, theologian, mystic, Saint, minister to the sick and skilled diplomat who succeeded in healing the breach in the Papacy that ended when she persuaded Gregory XI to return from Avignon to Rome. She did not hesitate to serve plague victims which made her a saintly icon of healers.  Long after her death at age 33, the strong, compassionate woman was declared a Doctor of the Church, Patroness of Italy and Europe. She is surrounded in the Connick window at CSVF with Saints like Agnes of Montepulciano, Catherine of Siena’s early 14th Century inspiration, and to her right, the 16th Century Catherine de Ricci, showing three centuries of visionary women, from mystical to diplomatic.

st-catherine-of-siena-windowSt. Catherine of Siena Window

st-agnes-of-montepulcianoSt. Agnes of Montepulciano from St. Catherine of Siena Window (detail)

Subjects of other of the major stained glass Clerestory windows range from patron of lawyers, St. Raymond of Pennafort; missionary to South America, St. Louis Bertrand; Saint Antoninus, symbolizing the Order’s relationship to art and architecture and champion of social justice issues such as the need for a living wage.

Two of the masterpieces of SVF’s world of stained glass art create the east and west boundaries of the nave’s pantheon of Dominican Saints. The Great West Window facing Lexington Avenue is a classic Rose Window whose theme is “the whole company of Heaven and all the powers therein.”  It depicts the nine choirs of angels and illustrates the relationship of great Dominican saints to the distinctive spiritual powers symbolized by each of the Angelic choirs.

center-aisle-toward-great-western-windowCenter Aisle toward Great West Window

The recently restored Great East Window is centered on the Return of Christ to Earth as a symbol of birth into new life. The major window of Saint Dominic stands at the head of the Friar’s Chapel, a replica of the Medieval choir, and setting for the daily communal prayer of the resident Friars. It is one of the most recently completed portions of the Church. Each smaller lancet, each smaller window punctuating the walls in a series of side chapels honoring patrons including St. Patrick, and others and portraying such Scriptural events as the Visitation of her older cousin Elizabeth by her young relative, the Virgin Mary. Each one of every size honors a Mystery of faith or saintly inspiration.

western-rose-window-detailGreat West Window detail

Medieval Cathedral exteriors, and especially their stained glass windows, functioned as “sermons in stone and glass,” especially for the many faithful who were illiterate.  The striking number of Connick windows in St. Vincent Ferrer’s French Gothic Revival structure make it a preeminent example Connick’s creativity, and one the three principal examples of his artistry in New York City. It is unusual to have such an abundance of the work of the master and his studio in a single location.

The large East Rose Window of St. Patrick’s Cathedral is one of the 14 of that Cathedral’s 94 windows designed and executed by Connick and his studio. Arthur Femenella, Sr. notes that that work was completed by Connick’s studio after his death in 1945. The third of New York City’s major examples of Connick’s artistry are to be seen at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Both its Greater and Lesser Rose Windows, Clerestory Level Windows, windows in the Arts Bay, and the Saint Martin Chapel are of Connick Design.  SVF and Saint Catherine of Siena Music Director James Wetzel reports that the Connick stained glass dates from around the first half of the 20th Century.

five-lancets-from-the-great-west-windowFive Lancets from the Great West Window

The glory of Connick’s artistry is unquestionable.  It is easy to understand why Connick ranks in a trio of masters along with Louis Comfort Tiffany and John La Farge.  His human and humane qualities are equally noteworthy. These include the fact that upon his death in 1945 he directed that his studios pass to the craftsmen who worked there with him in what he described as “only incidentally a business.”  They continued creating in his style and spirit as Charles J. Connick Associates, until 1986. A charming video documentary chronicling the Last Window shows an elderly craftsman narrating to a young woman, the steps involved in the restoration of a Connick window. The nearly two-year work of restoration of SVF’s Great East window with its central figure of Christ’s return in glory, demonstrated that the same painstaking skills of the 13th and 14th Centuries are being kept alive today.

the-top-of-the-reredos-and-the-great-east-windowGreat East Window, the “Window of the Last Judgement”

Before the closing of the Connick Studio in Boston, the craftsmen agreed to donate most of the studio records, working drawings and related materials to the Fine Arts Department of the Boston Public Library. The Connick Foundation works with Boston Public Library and Rotch Library at MIT to “conserve, maintain and enhance” the art form Connick and his colleagues developed.

For residents and visitors to the extensive Connick creations in our urban village surrounding SVF the voyage of discovery begins simply by looking up.

We would like to offer special thanks to the generous spirits who lent glorious images and insight into Connick’s masterpieces. Photographer Brian M. Kuttner is a retired general dentist from Millville, NJ, whose hobby is shooting famous architectural and historic sites, on the National Register of Historic Places.  He has created a portfolio of images documenting Connick’s works at the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer used in this story. On Facebook, readers can find his chronicles of its exterior, its side and auxiliary chapels, facades, and many other works of sacred and decorative art.  The pastor of Saint Vincent Ferrer, Very Rev. Walter Wagner, OP was most generous with his kind assistance and unparalleled knowledge, interpreting the scores of Connick’s works at CSVF; thank you to Arthur Femenella, Sr. President of Femenella Associates for his insight into Connick’s works at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and to James Wetzel for similar insight into the Connick works at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.

Street Seens: An Answer – “Villagers” Open My Eyes by Refusing to Close Theirs


Nearly a year ago I was asked a poignant question for which I had no answer. A man whose homelessness was not evident approached a group of “villagers” with great courtesy and sincerity. Our sidewalk conversation must have given him confidence that he could expect to be included in its atmosphere of respect. He reported that he had secured an interview and wondered if any of us might suggest a place where he could have a shower in advance of that appointment. None of us had a definitive answer. Several had some plausible suggestions ranging from a local “Y” to a Parks Department Recreation Center. As we dispersed I was left with a vague sense that I should search for a better answer.

Fortunately, my neighbors and fellow parishioners of the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer (CSVF) Social Concerns Committee don’t stop with vague good will. Their commitment, dedication and consistent hard work were trained on finding solutions. Two weeks ago they marked a weekend of laser focus on the problem of homelessness by providing a spoken summary and printed information that illustrated the results months-long research and outreach to like-minded advocates had yielded. Taken together, their original report; a pocket sized reference card from the Neighborhood Coalition for Shelter;(NCS) and a quick guide to contact with the Coalition for the Homeless Crisis Intervention Program.

homelss flyer

What I heard and saw that weekend told me that I now had my answer for the question that had haunted me for months. It told me that we can and should be inspired by the neighbors in our various urban villages to join in a spoken or unspoken agreement not to close our eyes or our minds and hearts to the reality of homelessness. This information and consciousness-raising exercise make it undeniable that there are things we all can do to address this issue.

The CSVF Committee summarized research drawn from a broad cross section of print and online media detailing the dimensions of the problem, and the efforts to address it. It also included original research showing that the surprisingly long history of homelessness in New York was evident as long ago as 1710 “when the arrival of destitute Palatine German immigrants in Manhattan created the city’s first homeless crisis, but the first almshouse was not opened until 1736.”

The Report, Entitled “Our Neighbors Living on the Street and Those We Don’t See Living in Shelters” follows the historical survey with a lexicon of terms to help de-mystify the kinds and types of needs and ways of addressing them used in the discussions of what the CSVF Committee calls “the inconceivable and unacceptable reality of homelessness in New York City.” Months of study and lifetimes of commitment are summarized in less than a dozen pages to stimulate an enlightened response to the challenge posed to all dwellers in our urban villages who aspire to being fully engaged human beings.

The problem is not one-dimensional and the presentation called attention to the enormous variety of shelters: dozens, from ones for families to others focused on exiles created by domestic violence and some for runaway children under 21 years of age. Eviction and domestic violence are major causes of homelessness. The variety of facilities is wide. But as the numbers and age-range of the homeless population are increasing there can be no sugarcoating of the deplorable conditions in all too many facilities in the city’s shelter system. The CSVF Committee encourages people to familiarize themselves with alternatives to the current system. They also suggest using the reference cards from the Coalition for the Homeless to provide help to people needing immediate assistance.

brochureOne of the members who found in this New York neighborhood an outlet to continue the work she did to assist Vietnamese refugees when living in Hong Kong and Singapore suggested that a fine way to maximize the benefits of the information folders from the NCS and Coalition for the Homeless would be to acquire and distribute a small supply of Metro Cards loaded with at least a round trip fare to enable a person in need to travel to the place where help may be available.

The connection that kept resurfacing as I studied the information was to the amazing “Flying Eye Hospital” ORBIS whose mission is summarized as the assault on preventable blindness in places where that may be of epidemic proportions. Taking a cue from these dedicated volunteers in our urban village I now have at least the beginning of an answer to the one question one man asked me long months ago. And I have renewed hope that at least some of the problems of homelessness are “preventable.” It all begins by refusing to close one’s eyes.

Annette Cunningham’s Street Seens appears every Sunday.