Established in part with money donated from Trinity Church and the Port Authority, which owns the World Trade Center, John Heuss House, at 42 Beaver Street in Lower Manhattan, provides medical, psychiatric, and social services support to clients who struggle with paranoia, alienation, anxiety, and fear. Yet on September 11, as the Trade Center towers fell, these same clients rose to meet the devastating challenge.
"We have a delicate population here," says Wendy Stoddard, director of social services. Our clients are not so easy to evacuate."
As it turns out, evacuation wasn't necessary. Rather, the homeless at the drop-in center were dropped in on by Lower Manhanttan's workers, who were seeking shelter.
"The clients were great, made room for them, offered them their seats closest to the TV. A few days later, one of the visitors sent a $100 donation check. It was just beautiful," says Susan Larose, senior case manager, "how we all pulled together."
"Operating under enhanced stress, the clients somehow recognized the need to be as together as possible," says the Rev. Win Peacock, executive director. "There was little acting out; few incidents or altercations physical or verbal. They helped out in the kitchen, preparing meals, and with cleaning up the dust. Despite their medical or psychiatric problems, they showed the same resilient spirit as the rest of New York."
Electricity, water, and phones were all operational. "The only thing that stopped functioning, besides our internet access," says the Fr. Peacock, executive director, "was our air intake vent, which was a blessing."
LaRose set to work meeting immediate needs, but she was deeply concerned about those clients she had not yet seen.
"I was really worried about Project Renewal at One World Trade Center (a sister program serving the homeless). Some of our clients are usually there," Susan says. "But, thank goodness, they all got out or were already on their way here when the airplane struck."
She was also anxious about the services John Heuss House provides its clients on a weekly basis, such as tuberculosis screenings and psychiatric evaluations and medications from the Manhattan Psychiatric Outreach Program (MPOP). Without the medications in particular, especially during these stressful conditions, she worried about maintaining her clients' mental health.
"We didn't get any meds that Tuesday," she says, "though MPOP hand-delivered them on Wednesday. But nonetheless the clients really held it together. They were more together during the crisis than they'd ever been."
Although all of his clients were accounted for, Fr. Peacock still worries about other homeless in Lower Manhattan, whose names will not make it onto official lists.
"Other than ourselves and other social service agencies," he points out, "there's no one to report a homeless person missing. The Trade Center, for instance, was a place where many of these men and women gathered for temporary shelter. We'll never know for certain whether any of the homeless perished in the World Trade Center attacks."