My last stay in New York City laid me in the lap of luxury. The “W” Hotel on Times Square exuded sleek, modern elegance. Their signature service is to orchestrate every design detail to convey comfort, style, and class. But there is another New York. My most recent visit has reminded me that the city has another face, not so coiffed, not so elegant.
My hosts this trip were the amazing folks at the New York School of Urban Ministry or NYSUM for short. For twenty-five years the Rev. Peter DeArruda, his wife Darleene, and their magnificent staff have been serving the “other” New York, the gritty world of the streets. Their signature service is a late night “room service” visit to New York’s homeless. The delivery? A care package of personal hygiene goods, and a late night snack. Then, with the help of volunteer groups from around the country, they serenade their “guests” with live music and love.
While for this stay I did not have 200-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, I met a staff who has given out thousands of free blankets to the homeless. I could not order fresh squeezed wheat grass shots for breakfast, but I could receive a generous helping of love and a bagged lunch to take me out into the community to help AIDS patients, or sing for cerebral palsy sufferers.
So I didn’t have fresh flowers at check-in, but I did have a wakeup call. According to the NY Coalition for the Homeless, there are 9,538 homeless currently in shelters in the city. That’s an increase of more than 5,000 people since 2002. In Hampton Roads terms, that’s a whole aircraft carrier full of people who don’t have a home beyond the streets.
This Spring Break (2010) students from Regent University will come with me to visit this other New York. And when they check in at the bare bunks and sparse halls of NYSUM, I know that they will have a chance to serve those in need. They will discover, as I have, that love may be the ultimate luxury.