Henry Street Settlement is located on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, which has historically been and continues to be one of the most ethnically diverse communities in the nation. Foreign-born residents comprise 37.7 percent of the population, and 56 percent speak a language other than English at home.
Our neighborhood is home to a large proportion of Hispanic residents (30 percent), including Puerto Rican and Dominican immigrants, as well as Asian residents (24 percent) from China, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. Our community also includes a sizable African-American population; immigrants from Bangladesh and India; Russian and Ukrainian émigrés; and Orthodox Jews, who first settled here in the late 19th century.
The Lower East Side is at once the embodiment of the American dream and the repository of some of the country’s most intractable problems. Twenty-five percent of all households on the Lower East Side live below the poverty level; 35 percent of those include families with children under 18. In some of the census tracts where our youth programs are located, more than 50 percent of all residents live below the poverty line. (For comparison, the United States average is 14.3 percent.)
Poverty is linked with homelessness, unemployment and underemployment, poor mental and physical health, inadequate child care, lack of access to health care and other needed services to achieve health and well-being, and chronic stress. Children raised in poverty are more likely to do poorly in school, suffer impaired social/emotional functioning and more likely to engage in risky behaviors.
In the past decade, the gap between affluent and low-income families has grown. For example, the percentage of adults with less than a ninth-grade education has increased, at the same time that there are more college graduates living in the community. The neighborhood has a significant number of public housing complexes; a large number of those residents struggle to make ends meet. The increasing disparity between the educated and uneducated, the high- and low-income households causes social tension, frustration and a sense of exclusion especially among the low-income young people whose families cannot afford the results of gentrification, including housing and the more expensive retail stores and restaurants.
While there are many risk factors in the neighborhood, there are also many strengths. These include a sense of community among residents; a strong Community Board; a rich cultural, racial and ethnic diversity; the presence of social service agencies like Henry Street; and culture-based values among many families that emphasize the involvement of the extended family in the care of children and the elderly. In addition, the Lower East Side is a vibrant artistic center in the City, with an increasing number of artists living and creating innovative new art in our neighborhood.
While Henry Street provides services to all New Yorkers, the agency remains firmly rooted in the Lower East Side community where it has remained a trusted advocate for our neighbors since 1893.