Many of the New York counsellors have successfully overcome addictions and other life challenges themselves. “We’re committed to having folks with lived experiences, who can speak the language of recovery and of dealing with addiction,” White says. “Before you know it, you’re not on a bench, you’re just inside of a warm conversation with someone who cares and understands.”
The New York City benches – which are bright orange – were piloted in 2016 and launched in mid-2017, attracting some 30,000 visitors during their first year. The city so far has three permanent benches in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Harlem, and the programme hosts pop-ups at festivals, churches, food pantries, parks and more. Friendship Bench counsellors also make themselves available immediately following community tragedies, including a recent suicide completed in public in East Harlem.