The Aesthete

Shine a Little Light

Tonight's annual ARTWALK in support of the Coalition for the Homeless brings the city's brightest stars out for a good cause

by Bettina Prentice

Tonight I will have the honor of co-chairing the 19th annual ARTWALK NY event benefiting the Coalition for the Homeless alongside Casey Fremont, Chloe Malle, Genevieve Bahrenburg and Hannah Bronfman. The evening is hosted by Dolce & Gabbana together with longtime supporters Alec and Hilaria Baldwin, Carey Lowell and Coco Rocha, with Richard Gere serving as honorary chair. In the eight years that I have been volunteering for the organization, we have never seen such a tremendous surge in the number of people living in homeless shelters. Right now New York City, arguably the wealthiest city in the country, is experiencing the worst homeless crisis since The Great Depression.

For most people, the word homeless conjures images of a panhandler asking for change or someone muttering incoherently while pushing a grocery cart, but the face of homelessness has changed. If you visit a New York City shelter, you will more likely see a struggling single mother who works multiple minimum-wage jobs comforting her young children. As a new mother myself, I cannot imagine what these women go through every day. Their attempts to improve conditions for their children are futile without the right tools: education, after-school programs, help finding a decent job, and most importantly, a home. 

I first got involved with Coalition for the Homeless because I was really attracted to their micro-solutions. CFTH gives volunteers and donors the opportunity to make a real and measurable difference in the life of one individual or family. I support many causes and art institutions, but anyone who knows me beyond the cocktail party circuit knows that CFTH is the cause that I care most profoundly about. The CEO Mary Brosnahan and their Executive Director Dave Giffen (pictured above) are two people that top my list of personal heroes. A gesture on behalf of or a donation to CFTH is something I literally never forget.

The Coalition offers many direct service programs for homeless people–including crisis services, job training, and after-school programs for homeless children–but also a myriad of solutions to help prevent homelessness. It is the help that CFTH provides to those people who are most at-risk that resonates most with me. These families live paycheck-to-paycheck before some traumatic and unforeseen crisis occurs in their lives. The loss of a job or a medical emergency can cause a hardworking family to suddenly face eviction. CFTH will help the family with a one-time grant to cover their rental arrears. Last year this program alone rescued more than 500 families from eviction and homelessness by paying their back rent and helping them get their lives back on track.

As a volunteer, I go out every few weeks on their emergency feeding vans that hand out 1,000 meals every night on the streets of the city–the program that I call the gateway drug to the organization because it is a short time commitment (3.5 hours) and it illustrates the need so acutely so that people get hooked!

Over the years, I have introduced legions of friends–editors like WWD’s David Lipke, models like Coco Rocha and Hilary Rhoda and designers like Timo Weiland–to CFTH through this program, and the reaction has been universal. At the Staten Island Ferry Terminal the winds off the water are so strong and bitter in the winter that people struggle to open the van doors. The homeless people there always ask if we have any blankets or extra socks, or even newspapers that they can use as insulation, and volunteers struggle to hold back tears. In Chinatown we always have our busiest stop of the night, with over 100 people waiting, many with their children in tow. This group is comprised mainly of the working poor who live two or three families to a single apartment. They use the food that we distribute to subsidize a hand-to-mouth existence that is hard for many of us to contemplate. It is a powerful experience to see firsthand the poverty that exists in New York, and people almost always volunteer again.

I’m from a very devout Catholic family and my mother was always frustrated that I didn’t regularly attend church. She first came out as a volunteer for CFTH three years ago and now understands why it is possible for me to get all of the inspiration I need to be a better person and contribute to the greater good by interacting with and supporting the Coalition for the Homeless and their array of programs that help 3,500 people every day. I invite everyone reading these words to come out one evening–the vans go out 365 days a year, regardless of the weather, so we should have plenty of space for all of you! I also hope to see you all tonight at ARTWALK to celebrate the mission of the Coalition for the Homeless and our amazing honorees: the brilliant artist Roxy Paine and longtime patrons Kim and Michael McCarty. Together, we can make a real difference in the lives of our neediest neighbors.

 

For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit www.artwalkny.com.