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Melissa E. Sanchez and Corinne Low’s Open Hearts Initiative wins 2020 Compassionate Community Award

Two Penn professors, Melissa E. Sanchez (English, Comp Lit, GSWS) and Corinne Low (Wharton) have learned that an organization that they lead, the Upper West Side Open Hearts Initiative, won the 2020 NYC Coalition for the Homeless Compassionate Community Award. Low co-founded the Open Hearts Initiative to support the residents of three shelters that have been temporarily relocated to Upper West Side hotels to reduce crowding and stop the spread of Covid-19. Sanchez soon joined the leadership committee. Working with shelter residents and care providers and local neighbors, schools, businesses, and religious leaders, Open Hearts has provided unhoused New Yorkers with moral and material support. As part of this effort, Open Hearts has organized community art events to show shelter residents welcome and support; rallies, marches, and sleep-outs; voter registration drives; addiction and recovery counseling; and drives in which people can donate food, supplies, clothing, and Metrocards. Amidst NYC budget cuts on the one hand and wealthy residents’ opposition to neighborhood shelters on the other, Open Hearts has sought to engage shelter residents in representing their own needs and interests. Sanchez and Low agree that the most meaningful evaluation of Open Hearts’ impact comes from unhoused persons themselves: “Since coming to the Upper West Side community and experiencing a negative backlash from a small minority of community residents, it was refreshing for there to emerge a bigger group, under the banner of UWS Open Hearts Initiative, that showed me and my fellow residents what love is in every sense of the word,” said a Lucerne resident who goes by the moniker Da Homeless Hero. “As a person who is affected by generational trauma, I am grateful for the expression of love and support presented by the UWS Open Hearts Initiative and look forward to continuing to work with them to make our experience in this community a healthy and beneficial experience.”

More details about the award can be found at, and more details about the work of Open Hearts can be found at For a short video capturing a voter registration drive organized by Open Hearts (with a voiceover by Sanchez), see