Project for the Homeless (PFH) is a student organization that has staffed two small homeless shelters in Manhattan, the men’s shelter at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue and the women’s shelter at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, for over 30 years. New York State law requires that a non-homeless volunteer stay overnight at the shelters. By sending Columbia and Barnard students, PFH ensures that the two shelters remain open for the men and women who are on track to receive permanent housing from the City of New York. PFH volunteers literally keep men and women off the streets!
Students can volunteer for only one night, or they can volunteer regularly. Once you sign up for a night, a coordinator will contact you, take you down to the shelter the night you’ve singed up for, and teach you what you need to do. Generally, you arrive at the shelter around 7:30 in the evening and leave around 6:00-6:30 am the next morning. Your only obligations that evening are to put away perishable food and turn off the lights in the shelter room around 10:00 pm. The guests at the shelter have already been assigned jobs for the night and will work together to clean the shelter. For the rest of the time, you are free to do homework or chat with the guests, who are always friendly and eager to talk. You sleep in your own room with two beds (students often volunteer with a friend). In the morning, you wake up at 5:30 am and make sure that that guests are awake and putting the room back in order. The responsibilities are minimal, so this is your chance to get to know the guests! Students usually arrive back on campus by 7:00 am.
About the Shelters
The shelters we staff are designed to help the homeless who are trying to get back on their feet. The men and women in the shelters are screened before they are allowed in the program. They are all drug and alcohol-free, many have jobs, and all are in programs to help them find permanent housing. The shelters are safe places to volunteer. The shelter residents eagerly welcome PFH and are appreciative of the assistance of Columbia and Barnard student volunteers.
PFH staffs the women’s shelter on Sunday nights only (2 volunteers required). PFH staffs the Stephen Wise men’s shelter on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights (1 volunteer required). Both male and female volunteers may stay at both shelters, and you are always more than welcome to bring a friend. See our volunteer calendar for the latest schedule of free nights.
PFH is sponsored by Community Impact.