Today’s Listen: How the House Our Future NY Campaign Can Help Address Homelessness

The City must use every available tool to confront the challenge of homelessness. Although Mayor de Blasio has taken some positive steps, he must go further by aligning his affordable housing plan with the reality of record homelessness. At a time when 61,945 New Yorkers – including 22,538 children – sleep in shelters each night, the Mayor’s Housing New York 2.0 plan allocates a mere 5 percent of its 300,000 affordable units to homeless households. As the Coalition said in a statement last week: “All told, the Mayor is spending billions on a plan that will do little to decrease record homelessness. Mayor de Blasio can trumpet the headline number all he wants, but very little of this housing is going to the people who need it most.”

To correct this disconnect between the housing plan and the homelessness crisis, the Coalition’s House Our Future NY campaign calls on Mayor de Blasio to increase the number of permanent affordable housing units set aside for homeless New Yorkers to 30,000 of his 300,000-unit Housing New York 2.0 plan, with 24,000 of those units to be created through new construction. The campaign continues to gain momentum, and has been endorsed by 57 organizations and 38 elected officials. Please add your voice by signing the House Our Future NY petition.

Giselle Routhier, the Coalition’s Policy Director, spoke with Joel Berg and Jeff Simmons on their WBAI radio show City Watch this weekend. The interview contextualized how past policy failures and the loss of affordable housing have contributed to record homelessness, and highlighted the urgency underlying the House Our Future NY campaign, which calls on Mayor de Blasio to increase the number of permanent affordable housing units set aside for homeless New Yorkers. Giselle explained:

 “We still haven’t been able to turn the curve and actually bring the number [of homeless New Yorkers] down in a meaningful way. One of the big things that is just this huge disconnect under de Blasio is he’s touted this amazing and historic affordable housing plan, where he’s investing billions of dollars to create or preserve 300,000 units of affordable housing, and virtually 5 percent of that is going to be going specifically to people who are homeless to get them out of shelters and into housing. And that’s totally insufficient. You’re missing this once-in-a-generation opportunity to use those resources to create housing for people who arguably have the highest housing need because they literally have no housing. So we’ve been pushing de Blasio to allocate 30,000 units out of his 300,000-unit plan specifically for homeless set-asides, but the vast majority of those – 24,000 – being new construction because that breakdown between new construction and preservation is also really key.  When you’re actually building new units, you’re increasing the supply, you’re making units available for people to move in directly from shelter, so that’s going to be really important and we think that’s an opportunity that would be extraordinarily unfortunate if it was missed. And so we’re really pushing for them to move in that direction.”

“Right now basically the Mayor is one of the only even moderately progressive City officials that has really not signed onto the House Our Future campaign. …  Just a few weeks ago, in June, we had all those elected officials send a letter to the Mayor and say, ‘Look, you need to be doing this.’ So he’s the main holdout now, and it makes sense because he’s the architect of this plan. It’s his plan, it’s City-funded, and so we need to be convincing him that this is extraordinarily worthwhile and it can’t not be done.”

Listen to the full interview here. Giselle’s segment begins around the 39:20 mark.

Housing for NYC’s Most Vulnerable Under Scrutiny for ‘Screening’

One fell asleep several times during the interview. Another reported daily hallucinations involving his deceased father’s voice. One was “extremely confrontational,” while another was just “very guarded.” The applicant with a history of “noncompliance” denied having a mental illness or substance-abuse problem and one of his fellow applicants spoke “of an electric machine that is trying to harm him.”

“Client blames people and the environment for his anger management issues,” wrote one interviewer. Another client, “describes her mental illness as a ‘pain in her mind’ and states that when she gets upset the muscles in her head sweat and swell.”

Today’s Read: Housing for NYC’s Most Vulnerable Under Scrutiny for ‘Screening’

With 62,000 men, women, and children in NYC shelters tonight and thousands more sleeping on the streets, it is imperative that we invest in permanent housing and ensure that homeless New Yorkers are given the stability and services they need to thrive. Research has shown that supportive housing – permanent affordable housing with on-site services to help people with mental illness, substance abuse issues, or other special needs – can break the cycle of homelessness and save tax dollars. Coalition for the Homeless and other members of the Campaign 4 NY/NY Housing succeeded in convincing Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo to fund the creation of a combined 35,000 new units of supportive housing over 15 years. However, as these desperately needed new units start to come online, advocates have expressed concerns that the clients with the most significant needs are not being granted entry into the very housing that could help them overcome these obstacles.

In response to a Federal mandate, New York City has begun to implement a Coordinated Assessment and Placement System (CAPS) that categorizes supportive housing applicants as “low,” “medium,” or “high” vulnerability based on the number of “systems contacts” they have had – posing problems for extremely vulnerable homeless New Yorkers who are disengaged from government agencies, and therefore have few if any countable contacts.

Coalition for the Homeless and The Legal Aid Society raised several of these concerns at the New York City Council Committee on General Welfare’s April 24th hearing on the City’s supportive housing initiative and related topics. Read a summary of our testimony here.

Jarrett Murphy wrote about the supportive housing and CAPS issues for City Limits:

Once the vulnerability assessment is fully operational, CAPS will refer three applicants deemed “highly vulnerable” to a provider with an open slot in supportive housing. The providers will pick one and offer them the spot. Whether there will still be room in that system for any screening—in other words, whether providers will find any reason to distinguish among three highly-vulnerable referrals—is an open question.

But some advocates worry about the assessment itself—in particular, whether contact with jails or hospitals really the best indicator of who is more or less vulnerable. “We’re really afraid that the way they are assessing people, especially for young people, isn’t finding the people who most need it,” says Powlovich. “My argument would be that the person most disconnected from services is more vulnerable,” she adds, although she notes that a youth-specific assessment tool might eventually be added to the city’s toolkit.

A particular concern is that applicants have to document that they are chronically homeless by the federal definition of the term, and that can be difficult to do. [Policy Director Giselle] Routhier from the Coalition for the Homeless says her agency’s clients have been having a hard time being found eligible for supportive housing at all, let alone accepted by a provider. “There should be a level of flexibility acknowledging the vulnerability index is new and there might be some errors in it,” she says.

The Coalition advocates on behalf of individual supportive housing applicants daily through our direct service programs, while also pushing for systemic changes through legislation. The article highlights Intro. 147, a bill that would require reporting on who is being accepted for and turned away from supportive housing – a welcome step toward helping the public and advocates understand the complicated process, and address some admittedly challenging problems. At the same time, the Coalition and other partners will continue to call for more resources for supportive housing providers, so that they are adequately reimbursed to provide the support services that the most vulnerable individuals need to succeed in this housing model.

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