Saturday, February 7, 2009

Luxury Shelter Houses Homeless CEOs

NEW YORK- With media coverage of the recession focused on the middle-class and working poor, it is easy to lose sight of those hit hardest by the economic downturn: the CEOs. "You read about these families losing their houses," bemoans Sloan Westwood, former CEO of Cervico Systems, "and what they don't tell you is that most of these homes weren't even worth more than a few hundred thousand dollars. Big deal. They don't know what loss is."

Westwood lost more than two hundred million in stocks and mutual funds. Then his business went under, leaving him destitute, with barely ten million dollars to his name. "When I finally had to give up my Upper East Side penthouse, I had nowhere to go. My house in the Hamptons was being remodeled, and my house in the Berkshires was just too far away." When hope seemed gone, Westwood found help at the Eleganza Haven, a new luxury shelter on the Lower East Side.

Paid for with tax dollars, the Haven offers refuge and dignity to CEOs who've had to melt down their golden parachutes and trophy wives just to get by. The center also provides job training for fields in which CEOs typically have no expertise, such as carpentry, plumbing, and business management.

"There simply hasn't been an adequate safety-net for these poor souls," says Eleganza founder, Theresa Snow. "If a normal person recklessly drives his car into a lake, the insurance company just hands you a brand new car, no questions asked. Right? But if a CEO runs his multi-billion dollar business into the ground, he's forced to live with the consequences of his actions. How's that fair?"

Not everyone is happy with this new facility. "It's ruining the neighborhood," says Mickey Clark, a long-time homeless resident of the Lower East Side. "I used to support myself recycling cans. Now these CEOs have their personal assistants scoop them all up before I get a chance." Clark used to reside at the historic Bowery Mission, until it was torn down so the Eleganza could have an indoor polo field.

While the long term effects on the neighborhood are in question, it is clear that the shelter has a profound impact on the CEOs who stay there. "You can see in their eyes what it means to them," says Olivier Lecroix, executive chef at the Haven's soup kitchen, where today's soup is a white bean with black truffle oil. "I'm just happy to help relieve their suffering."

1 comment:

  1. What! The Bowery Mission is gone?! Damn the man/CEO's and their lack of money.