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A Special Visit to the Prince George

In 1996, Breaking Ground acquired the then-dilapidated Prince George Hotel on 28th Street between Madison and 5th Avenues. The once-grand hotel had suffered from decades of neglect, and had a long history as welfare hotel, at one point cramming more than 1,600 people into just 400 rooms.

All of that was about to change, as Breaking Ground spent three years lovingly converting the building into our second-largest supportive residence. The Prince George opened in 1999, providing 415 studio apartments for formerly homeless and low-income individuals. Now, the Prince George is undergoing a second round of major renovations – replacing elevators and upgrading building systems – to ensure that it forever remains a home to some of New York’s most vulnerable residents.

And last week, the Prince George received a special visitor.

Back in town to see relatives, Stephanie, one of the Prince George’s very first tenants upon its reopening in 1999, stopped by to reflect on how “this place really changed my life, and I’m so thankful it’s still here.”

When she was first starting out, Stephanie was doing pretty well. “In my twenties, I moved to San Francisco, and I lived there for about seven years. I had a well-paying job. The company I worked for offered me a position in New York, so that’s how I came here.”

But, she says, “I wasn’t really together, I had some addiction problems.” And that led to losing her job, and then a life on the streets.

For more than two years, she made a Harlem alleyway her home. In the mornings, to get warm, she would stand next to the steam vents of a nearby laundromat. “It was really horrible,” she says. “It would be warm in the steam, but the moment I stepped away, I was even colder, because now I was wet.” Living on the streets “was really just basic survival. It’s hard to believe, now, that I went through that.”

“Eventually I got into emergency shelter, which helped me get stable, and I started temping. I don’t think I was there for all that long before learning about the Prince George.”

It was 1999, and Breaking Ground was just about to reopen the Prince George as permanent supportive housing. Stephanie was one of the first people to move into the building.

Something changed. I saw that there was another way to go. It wasn’t until I came to live here at the Prince George that I started to treat my methadone as a medication, and I started staying away from all other drugs. In my core being, I’m a hard worker. But I had lost myself.”

The Prince George helped her find herself again. “It was a really supportive environment. There were people with mental health issues. But I was away from drugs, away from that toxic culture, and it changed things for me. The stability of having a place of your own, the support here, was a big part of that.”

“I worked while I was in the shelter system – it was possible, and I did it. But it’s a lot easier to have your own space, your own bathroom, and everyone here was so helpful. It helped me redevelop my sense of responsibility. Somehow, I got student loans, I started to go back to school. And then I began to taper off the methadone. I definitely thrived here.”

Two years after moving into the Prince George, Stephanie found real stability, enough to leave New York so that she could help take care of an ailing relative. And from there, it was a totally new life.

She’s kept the same job for 14 years now. “I own a three-bedroom house with a yard, with deer and bunny rabbits and all kinds of wildlife. I have a son, and a daughter, and a husband. I have a life that you would not believe….from that girl who was living in an alleyway. I’m pretty happy where I’m at.”

“It’s amazing what you do here,” she says of Breaking Ground and the Prince George. “To give someone from the streets the opportunity to live in a little studio in Midtown Manhattan, on a sliding scale, and make it possible for me to build a completely new life…I’m just so grateful.”