It seems like a relatively normal work environment, checking in with staffers and making sure everything’s running smoothly. But for Valerie C. Smith’s Westhab team, these meetings are all about changing homeless New Yorkers' lives.
“At the end of the day, we’re in the business of building communities and changing lives," Smith said.
When the pandemic hit, Westhab instantly had to make changes in order to ensure that its 1,000 clients were safe. They expanded shelters into hotels to encourage social distancing. It was Smith who led the charge.
“We wanted to make sure our clients felt valued so we looked at a lot of hotels before finally settling on this one," Smith said.
Though her job can be done from home, Smith makes every effort to show up each day - supporting the nearly 400 staff she oversees.
“Anything I expect my team to do. I’m here to show that we’re all in this together," Smith said.
As the pandemic raged, Smith knew the work would not slow down. She began managing three hotel shelters to keep clients safe, overseeing eight shelters in total.
“We are not operating as if it’s a pandemic. We’re operating as business as usual because we are essential. If we don’t do what we’re charged to do then we’re impacting people’s lives," Smith said.
Though a challenge, Smith and her team’s efforts have seen success. Here’s proof: Thirty-five clients have been placed in permanent housing in the last couple of months.
“What we want people to know is, homelessness is not something that a person chooses. We come out everyday and we’re committed. And if we should encounter a barrier we find a work around," Smith said.
So, for helping others build a more permanent future, Valerie Smith and her dedicated staff are our New Yorkers of the Week.