By Harvey Cohen
You exit the downtown 6 train and pass the trendy boutiques along Spring Street. The shops and the street are frequented by tourists in search of the latest fashions and local millennials stealing some time from jobs in the nearby technology hub that now exists in this neighborhood. This is one view of Manhattan.
But if you continue just a few blocks east, you get another very different view of Manhattan. Because then you get to The Bowery Mission, a street made famous by its flophouses and history of homeless alcoholics. Walking just one block north of Spring Street, you find The Bowery Mission. And as much as downtown Manhattan may have gentrified over the past years, you won’t find any rich tourists or hip millennials at The Bowery Mission.
Here, as if history has stood still, you’ll find hundreds of homeless people, many of them alcoholics, all struggling to just make it through one more day. They come to The Bowery Mission because they know everyone is welcome here, 365 days a year — for a good meal, a hot shower, even a bed to sleep in overnight.
David Jones is the CEO and President of The Bowery Mission. He now lives on the Upper West Side, but he was born in Jacksonville, Florida. He left home at 16 and joined the Air Force at 17. He then used the GI bill to become a CPA and joined the accounting firm KPMG where he ultimately rose to head the corporate finance practice, supervising 200 people and traveling the world.
But the world of finance left his soul feeling empty. So in 2010, he started and became the co-minister at a small church in New Jersey. That’s where his heart was, and he knew he had found his purpose.
Then in 2015, when The Bowery Mission was looking for new leadership and a new direction, he was recommended for the job. The combination of Jones’ financial background at KPMG, his ministerial service and his passion for helping those in need gave him the perfect credentials.
He reorganized the Mission and gave it a new strategy centered on a more holistic approach to treating the homeless and added new shelters, new programs and a new camp for at-risk children. Jones empathetically says: “These people are living the worst day of their life, every day.” So under his leadership, The Bowery Mission never turns anyone away.
Last year The Bowery Mission served over 650,000 meals, provided close to 170,000 nights of safe shelter, distributed more than 45,000 pieces of clothing and performed over 1,300 medical, dental and optometry exams. And many of the homeless people who finally get these necessities of life turn it into a new life.
Precious is a 40-year-old former attorney at a large Manhattan law firm. In 2013, she lost the love of her life, was suffering from bipolar disorder and alcoholism and considered taking her life. She was just out of a psychiatric ward when she found The Bowery Mission.
She says: “When I walked through their doors, I was a mess. I had nothing. They welcomed me home, took care of me and nursed my spirit and soul. They saw I was broken and spoke to my brokenness.”
Now Precious has her own apartment and is running a successful consulting business advising companies on improving their own client presentations. “Without The Bowery Mission,” Precious says, “I would be dead, because I had no access to resources and would have gone back to the bottle.”
Matt (not his real name) is 35 years old and was a drug addict since the age of 12 when he first used cocaine. He lived a life of crime and drugs for over 22 years. During that time, he saw his brother, also an addict and dealer, shot to death. And his entire family — his wife, daughter, mother and father — all stopped communicating with him. Matt says: “I was living a foul life and had no concern for anybody.”
In June of 2017, Matt was robbed and had a gun put in his mouth. He realized then if he didn’t do something, he would die on the streets. He walked into The Bowery Mission, and last year graduated from their program.
Now he is back in touch with everyone except his ex-wife.
Matt says his renewed contact with his daughter, whom he now sees every weekend, is the best part of his new life: “To have the opportunity to be her father and to be present in her life is a blessing. Without The Bowery Mission I wouldn’t have that opportunity. I would be dead or in jail”.
David Jones says: “The Bowery Mission serves as God’s arms and legs.” Anyone who sees what they do would certainly agree that their work is a blessing.