Mom’s Club Provides Outlet for Mothers in Clinton Shelter



Homes for the Homeless’ Clinton Family Inn. Photo: David Palacio

There are 46,270 homeless people currently residing in New York City’s shelter system – including 19,654 children, according to the October 1st Department of Homeless Services’ Daily Report. Almost a third of those children, about 6,000, are six and under.

The Clinton Family Inn, just a short walk from the lights of Times Square, houses about 75 children among its 82 families, and has created a Mom’s Club program to serve its residents’ specific needs. The inn is part of Homes for the Homeless, a New York City-based organization founded in 1986 that attempts to address homelessness with a comprehensive approach by creating an environment for success, rather than merely providing a shelter. American Family Inns, with the Clinton inn located in Manhattan and other facilities in the Bronx and Queens, is the group’s model for providing on-site career counseling, substance-abuse counseling, peer support groups, day care, and other services.

The Mom’s Club came about because a family unit at the Clinton inn often consists of a young mother, in her early 20s, and a child.  “The staff of the shelter thought it would be helpful for the mothers of the shelter to have a space to talk about parenting,” said Sylvia Staub, a clinical psychologist with 30 years of experience in dealing with individuals, couples, families, and groups.

Rosemary Fernandez, a young mother with a big smile and warm personality, had to find shelter at the Clinton Family Inn because of problems she was having with her child’s father.  Since arriving she has turned to the Mom’s Club, and plans to keep attending. “I like the fact they talk about life issues, kids,” she said. “Talking about stuff makes things better.”

Ana Brown, a 31-year-old resident of the Clinton Family Inn for the past 11 months, and mother to a 9-year-old and a 15-month-old, appreciates the opportunity to spend some time with other mothers in the shelter. It’s something she doesn’t experience outside of the group. “We really don’t have friends,” said Brown, of life beyond the inn.

Staub recently took the position of Mom’s Club team leader. She moved to New York City two years ago after retiring from 25 years of private practice and teaching at Amherst College, 75 miles west of Boston in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Reaching out to the young mothers, providing guidance as well as a sympathetic ear, has had an immediate impact.  “Before the group started she would sit in her room and cry,” said Staub about a young mother at the inn. “She felt isolated.  She said it’s been such a relief to come to the group and be able to talk. It’s a form of community, and community is a very important part of life.

“They don’t have community,” she said. “We become their community.”

Staub would like to see the Mom’s Club expand. “I’m hoping we can develop this group to be a model for other groups in other shelters,” she said.  The size of the group fluctuates due to the transient nature of shelters as families move on to more permanent housing, but usually about six to ten mothers attend.  Volunteers to the program provide day care while the Mom’s Club is in session.

There is no time limit on residency at housing provided by the Department of Homeless Services.  Applications go through the city’s Department of Homeless Services Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing (PATH) office in the Bronx, which provides assistance for shelter-seeking families with children under 21.

The time spent focused on personal growth and human connection, while children are looked after by volunteer care, can be therapeutic for everyone involved.  “An hour of nothing but fun, playing with blocks and puzzles is great for the kids,” said Margaret Menghini, a senior program associate in Manhattan with Homes for the Homeless,  “and gives the parents an hour of alone time, which is great.”

“When you’re homeless you are somewhat isolated,” said Menghini, , “we want them to know they have partners in the building.”