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City Relief CEO: The Truth About Homelessness and How You Can Make a Difference  


Photo: Josiah Haken

By John Kelly

Josiah Haken, the CEO of City Relief, has written a book that seeks to change society’s perception of homeless people and offers practical insights for those who are looking to help; The title is Neighbors With No Doors: The Truth About Homelessness and How You Can Make a Difference.

 “I wrote my book to break down the most common stereotypes, or lies, that our society believes about homelessness and to empower ordinary people to make an extraordinary impact,” he said.

Haken oversees the day-to-day operation of City Relief, a mobile organization that serves New York City and New Jersey, providing hot meals, health/hygiene supplies, and other urgently needed items like cell phones, in additional to on-site access to community partners.

The book is comprised largely of “real-life stories of friends that I have made throughout my 12 years of working in the streets with City Relief,” Haken said.

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“I have found that well-intentioned people want to help their homeless neighbors, but don’t know how often end up doing nothing. I hope that this book will lower the bar on what people believe they can do and provide practical steps that anyone can take to love their neighbors as themselves.”

In Neighbors With No Doors, Haken explains what to do in common situations such as when an unhoused person asks for money. Readers are encouraged to “know that they are people too.” City Relief tries to fight the dehumanization of homeless people by connecting them with communities.

“Homelessness is often isolating” Haken said. “Navigating social services, in addition to finding essential supplies for survival, can take up a lot of time and energy. At City Relief we believe that the first step in helping someone escape homelessness is reminding them that they are seen and they matter. We do that by sharing a meal together, offering supplies like socks and toiletries, and then connecting with them for a one-on-one conversation about where they want to be in a year. The next step is to connect them to the organization or service provider that will help them achieve their goals as quickly as possible.”

Dr. Deborah Padgett, Professor at the New York University Silver School of Social Work, praised the work of City Relief and Neighbors With No Doors.

“Josiah Haken’s passion and dedication to helping persons experiencing homelessness is evident in this book as he debunks the destructive myths we use to explain people who have lost it all (why else would one sleep on a sliver of cardboard in a snowstorm?),” she writes in an online review. “He educates the reader while telling fascinating stories of individuals whose humanity shines through the awful, gritty reality they endure.”

Haken’s book is available Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and at www.neighborswithnodoors.com, where Haken hosts a podcast and offers anecdotal looks into the lives of homeless people.

To make a donation to City Relief this holiday season or to volunteer, please visit www.cityrelief.org.

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