By Dean Stattmann
New York is a city where even the wildest dreams can come true. It is also a city in which 100,000 people experience homelessness each year. And one step into the Bowery Mission will teach you that it doesn’t take a lot to go from one to the other.
Humbly situated at 227 Bowery, nestled in between Stanton and Rivington Streets, is the Bowery Mission, an organization that has offered a helping hand to New York City’s less fortunate for over 130 years.
Providing help and resources along every step of the way to recovery, the Bowery Mission has truly taken the problems of homelessness and addiction in New York City into it’s own welcoming hands. Beyond accommodation (Participants in rehabilitation programs can stay as long as one year), the Mission also provides three cooked meals a day, computer learning services, employment resources and most importantly, a safe, friendly environment that encourages recovery and total rehabilitation.
“We’re here as a beacon of light,” says James Macklin, Director of Outreach at the Bowery Mission. Macklin – himself an alumnus of the Mission’s rehabilitation program – found himself in need of such a beacon when he lost his business to cocaine in the early 80s. He came to the Bowery Mission with nowhere else to go.
Fortunately, the Mission, which has since moved from its former location on Canal Street, has devised a rehabilitation program that has its residents hopeful that a better tomorrow is around the corner.
“We believe that rehabilitation comes from a change of the heart,” says Macklin. “You have to change the way people perceive themselves, you have to change their perception of life and then you start them off on a brand new track.” By new track, he is of course referring to one of faith.
Religion is a key component at the Mission – which hosts three mandatory prayer sessions daily – and many of its residents attribute their recovery in part to discovering a spiritual side to them that they never knew existed. One graduate of the program, Steve Zakrzewski, was the Senior Vice President of one of the largest quality services organizations in the world before crossing the line with alcohol.
“AA didn’t work for me,” says Zakrzewski. “I realized at that point that I needed a long-term program. A social worker at the hospital told me about the bowery mission and they got me a bed. I came here and life was completely different from that point on.”
Zakrzewski is grateful for all the help the Bowery Mission has provided him with, but more so for introducing him to his Savior.
Another success story goes by the name of Kiki Adebola, a Nigerian immigrant who came to New York in the early 80s in search of the American Dream.
“I used to house soldiers and G.I.s in Nigeria,” Adebola says. “I used to show them where to get the weed and the girls. That’s how I was introduced to American people.”
After arriving in New York and enrolling at a college in Brooklyn, Adebola had a prosperous future ahead of him, until his addiction to crack cocaine got the better of him.
“First I was in control of it, but as time went on, it flipped the script on me and I became a slave to it,” he says. “Drugs will take you places that you really don’t want to go, they will cost you more than you would like to pay and they will keep you longer than you’d like to stay.”
Adebola stayed with his addiction for eight years, living on the streets of New York and “hustling” tourists just to stay alive. It was only when he met Macklin that he realized that life could be different.
Listening to the testimonies of these individuals, one cannot ignore their repeated referral to one another as “brother,” as if they were members of a fraternity. In fact, they even refer to the Mission as “the house.” This is the product of an undeniable sense of brotherhood that fills the hallways of the Bowery Mission.
Nobody can save themselves from the kind of perils that are carried through the Mission’s iconic red doors each day, and strength through brotherhood is the only way to win when the stakes are human lives. Thankfully, that is a hand that graduates of the Bowery Mission will not have to play.
“The American dream talks about a house, car, wife and kids – I have all that,” says Adebola. “The only thing I don’t have is a dog named Bingo and a cat named Fluffy.”
Photos by Dean Stattmann