The Partnership for the Homeless

Our History

In the late 1970s, countless men and women began appearing in our streets and parks, on our doorsteps in numbers not seen since the Great Depression.

As civic and religious leaders debated how to address this growing problem, then-Mayor Ed Koch held a Town Hall Meeting in the summer of 1982. When an audience member criticized the city's lack of response to homelessness, the Mayor responded with a challenge — asking religious leaders to practice their message of compassion by providing shelter for the men and women living on the streets.

Peter Smith, an activist attorney and former city official, accepted the challenge, vowing to create a partnership among faith communities, businesses, and government to address what was viewed as a temporary crisis.


Early Beginnings

Smith assembled a group of religious leaders and asked them to set up emergency shelters in their places of worship that would provide adults experiencing homelessness with safe overnight lodging, wholesome meals, and fellowship.

From this effort The Partnership for the Homeless was founded, with the clergy and volunteers who staffed the emergency shelters as members and Peter Smith at the helm as president. The Partnership soon comprised a network of 50 shelters, making The Partnership for the Homeless one of the most successful public-private partnerships developed in New York City.

Soon the Partnership was not only providing emergency shelter through its faith network but helping people find housing through a staff of housing specialists and legal advocates. Over time however the Partnership realized that housing could only be a crucial first step — not the end goal — to helping people achieve real stability and prosperity in their lives. In response the Partnership has added a more comprehensive array of services that include outreach into hard pressed communities, help with health and mental health issues, financial and nutritional counseling, connecting clients to other benefits, and employment and education assistance.


The Partnership Today

The Partnership has continued to evolve to meet changing realities. What was once considered a temporary problem has become entrenched in our City. More must be done to address the root causes of homelessness — generational poverty and a lack of affordable housing especially — if we are to truly conquer this challenge. In recent years the Partnership has adopted a new strategic approach that brings its direct services together with social science research and policy advocacy to finally set us on a course to end homelessness.

Read more at Who We Are Today.