Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church sits on the northwest corner of 5th Avenue and 55th St, New York City. It’s a part of the city where the wealthy congregate. The exclusive St Regis hotel is on the southeast corner, with a Godiva chocalatier and Louis Vuitton showroom on the ground floor. On the Southwest corner is the Peninsula motel where you can get a room for the night for just $US1390.00.

The only problem is the people over at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian aren’t cooperating. They have a policy of allowing the homeless to sleep on the church grounds. Each morning they make their showers available to the homeless and allows them to come in and warm up each morning.

The sight of 20 or 30 people in makeshift cardboard homes in the plain view of wealthy shoppers, businesspeople and VIP’s doesn’t sit well with a lot of those in power. In late November and early December church officials were asked to keep the homeless off their premises due to the presence of important dignitaries in nearby hotels. The church obliged for those few occasions, but when the homeless returned a campaign of police harassment began. First they arrived with vans and transported many of the homeless away. Then they returned hourly throughout the night, banging on the cardboard shelters of the homeless, waking them and inquiring about their health. Police officers were clearly uncomfortable about this, but reported that the orders “came from on high”.

Well Fifth Avenue Presbyterian church went higher. They took the authorities to court, and in late December 2001 the judge ruled in their favour. The police were not to remove or harass the homeless anymore.


Source: reported in New York Times, December 20, 2001.