Tribeca’s cobble-stoned streets, riverside restaurants, boutiques and skyrocketing real estate prices paint a picture of grandeur. The neighborhood is one of the wealthiest in the country with a median household income is $201,050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau data.
For the 5 percent of Tribeca residents below the poverty line, however, this abundance of wealth is just a number, a disheartening reminder of what they don’t have. Many of these residents turn to The New York City Rescue Mission, the oldest mission in America, for help.
At the corner of Lafayette and White Street around 5 p.m. on Thursday, a line starts outside the Mission and extends around the block. Friends chat and catch up as they wait to sign in. The Mission provides a daily hot dinner, a bed, and clothing to those in need. And for the first time in 142 years, the Mission now provides shelter for women in the newly constructed women-only dorm.
Many of the employees at the mission have experienced homelessness themselves. Tim Weal, 57, is an employee who knows what it’s like to have nowhere to sleep at night.
“I was actually pretty well educated for someone who came from a poor background,” Weal said. “But sometimes when you’re smart, you get lonely.” To stave off the loneliness Weal said he started hanging out with guys from his neighborhood. And he started to drink.
One day in 1994, Weal woke up with the shakes, he said. “It goes from wanting a drink to needing a drink because that’s the only way your hands will stop shaking,” he said. “And alcohol becomes king.”
Weal tried to hide is problem, he said. But eventually his girlfriend left him. His boss fired him. And when he no longer qualified for unemployment benefits, his landlord evicted him. Weal said he tried AA but found that it wasn’t right for him.
“AA meetings make me want to go out and have a drink,” he said. “Those people are depressing.”
Weal went to the Beth Israel Medical Center for treatment and emerged clean but with nowhere to live. “So I walked the streets of New York every day for seven months,” he said. “I know every soup kitchen in the city.”
In November of that year, Weal found the Bowery Mission. He got back on track and become a Fire Safety Director. He said he started making good money and soon forgot about God.
“You forget what saved your life,” Weal said. And after 16 years sober, Weal started to drink again, he said. “But this time, I knew where to go,” he said. Weal joined the Mission rehabilitation program and three years ago, Executive Director Mayes offered him a job.
“The Lord said to me, Tim, this is where you’re supposed to be,” Weal said.
The Women’s Program Director Marianne Friedman said having faced her own hardships makes it easier for Mission residents to trust her.
“I tell them I’ve walked through the same path of darkness,” she said. “I give them my testimony and it gives them that tiny mustard seed of hope.”
Winona Morris, 44, is one of the women who now seeks shelter at the Mission. She said she comes every day.
“I give this place a major A plus,” she said. “I love it.”
Morris came to New York when she was 21. She started doing drugs and found herself living on the street, sleeping in cardboard boxes when she couldn’t find shelter. Morris said she’s glad for the bed at Mission.
“Out there, I’ve been raped, I’ve been spit on, I pan handle to have money in my pocket,” she said. “But right here, this is safe. This is a safe haven.”
Intake Coordinator Martin Bowman, 62, who has two masters degrees from Columbia and also experienced homelessness, said helping people is not as easy as giving them a place to sleep and food to eat.
“You got to break all these old habits. Dysfunction is all they know,” he said. “My heart aches for them.”