Editor’s note — Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been highlighting the fight to save Park Church Co-op from being torn down by real estate developers. Park Church Co-op has served as more than just a religious institution in our neighborhood — it was a space where the community could come together and dance, volunteer, listen to music and enjoy each other’s company. You can read a community member’s recent op-ed here, and get caught up on the long-standing fight to save the church here and here.
Locals have shared some of their favorite Park Church Co-op memories with us. Below, an employee of the non-profit Breaking Ground, shares how impactful it was to use the space at Park Church.
Beginning in the Winter of 2015, Breaking Ground worked with the Park Church Co-Op (then Messiah Lutheran Church) to provide emergency respite services to 10 men living on the street in the Greenpoint/Williamsburg area over the winter months. In the years prior to the establishment of this program, at least one person passed away each winter due to exposure to the cold while sleeping in a park in Greenpoint. Park Church understood these were preventable tragedies, and offered a space for us to provide this service, standing strong in the face of pushback from neighbors and community members who worried about the impact a program serving unhoused people would have on the adjacent park.
It cannot be overstated how important this program and others like it are. In many cases, people experiencing homelessness may not feel comfortable leaving a neighborhood they are familiar with, for reasons of language access, family and friend connections, and many others. Services like the Park Church respite bed program address the immediate needs of our unhoused neighbors, and at a very basic level, protect the lives of vulnerable members of our communities. And in many instances, receiving services from a short-term program like the one at Park Church helps convince a person that they can safely work with Breaking Ground in a more comprehensive way. It can lead to accepting a long-term transitional housing placement, where the onsite supports provided help them get back on their feet and move forward with their goals.
Sadly, we had to end our winter respite bed program in 2020 due to the pandemic and have not been able to restart it. Despite this, the Park Church community continued to be an ally, lending chairs and their PA system – and crucial voices of support – when we held a community meeting at McGolrick Park in 2021 regarding a new safe haven transitional housing site that we will open later this year on Apollo Street.
We are ever grateful for the care and compassion of the Park Church community and can say with certainty that this program saved lives.
Casey Burke, LMSW is Senior Director overseeing Breaking Ground’s street outreach programs covering the entire boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. She has lived in Brooklyn for 20 years and has been a social worker since 2003, working with vulnerable populations across the City. She has been with Breaking Ground since 2007.