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.