Keeping New York’s Most Vulnerable Safe

Kenny Nieves is the 2021 Idrissa Camara Award Winner for Public Security Officer of the Year.

| 29 Apr 2021 | 03:15

Kenny Nieves works as security officer for the Department of Homeless Services and says dealing with people is the best part of his day.

“Working amongst the people,” Nieves said. “That’s the best part of my job. Working within my community. I’m able to affect people’s lives differently, through the conversations that I’ve had with some of the children and stuff like that. I definitely enjoy helping people, and I feel like in working for the Department of Homeless Services, I’m doing my part in that way.”

A supervisor, Nieves works overnights and says the schedule has its benefits.

“When the schools were open, if I needed to visit my children’s school, or if they had a play, I could go and spend time with my family,” Nieves said. “If I want to take my family to the beach, go to the pool, go for a drive or catch a movie, we definitely had time to do that.”

Nieves has been working as a security officer since 2008, mainly focusing on front door security checks and surveillance with the Department of Homeless Services. Nieves has been stationed at all kinds of shelters but says the particularly likes “working in the family shelters.” “It pulls at your heart, when you’re working in a family shelter. When you see the children, you see what they’re going through.”

Currently, Nieves is working at a shelter for single women at the Doubletree in midtown Manhattan.

“It opened up in January,” Nieves said. “Because of the situation with the pandemic, they wanted to see if they could put these clients in a position where they’re not all housed in one unit. In the normal facility, there isn’t much social distancing. Before they were close to each other, now they have their own rooms.”

Nieves does his best to make the families at these shelters feel as comfortable as possible, something he says he learned from his experiences growing up in the South Bronx.

“We do try our best to talk to some of the kids because sometimes they’re just going through a serious situation,” Nieves said. “They could be coming from a domestic violence situation, or losing their homes [in] a fire, being relocated, stuff like that. Having to pick up and move, that’s pretty hard on the child.”

Nieves says working conditions are great, mainly because of his coworkers.

“Sometimes we see each other more than we see our own families, we spend more time with each other on the job than we do at our own homes.”

Not only does Nieves enjoy the camaraderie, he believes in the abilities of his coworkers and goes beyond his duties to make sure they get what they need before a shift switch.

However, at the end of the day it’s all about family for Nieves.

Nieves has two children, a 17-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter who he is able to see more often now because the pandemic has changed their school schedules. But, while the pandemic can have its benefits, the drawbacks are just as prominent. “There was definitely at times fear, we don’t want to go out and bring something back home to our families.”