Today’s Read: The Face of NYC’s Homeless Crisis

It’s all too easy to become inured to the suffering on our streets and walk past the thousands of men and women who are struggling to survive. The Daily News recently profiled one of these individuals, explaining how traumatic brain injury and other obstacles have made it difficult for Fernando Lopez to extricate himself from the grip of homelessness.

Fernando is one of the roughly 100 chronically homeless individuals the Coalition helps each year through our Client Advocacy Program. CAP staff provide intensive, one-on-one case management to people living with mental illness or physical disabilities. As the Daily News article makes clear, the Coalition is among the only sources of consistent support for this often-overlooked population.

Lopez, 43, has lived for more than a decade on the streets of New York City. During that period, by his accounting, he has been hit by a car eight times; been stabbed once, outside a shelter; and sustained a traumatic brain injury that left him permanently impaired. This morning, though, he is suffering from a broken heart.

“I cant do it no more,” he texts just after 7 a.m. “im already suicidal. im just looking for the time to do it.” Lopez and I have met just once prior to this morning, yet I am the person he chooses to alert, with a message that seems alarmingly like a suicide note.

This is a situation for a professional, not a reporter, so I contact the Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group that provides counseling, food programs, and many other services. The organization serves approximately 3,500 New Yorkers each day, from its Fulton St. headquarters, and coordinates outreach programs all over the city; Lopez first connected with them over a meal at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church. They also run a crisis-intervention program and a social worker there knows Lopez. I text him to hang in there while he waits for them to reach out.

Fernando’s harrowing story underscores the need for more supportive housing units, which offer vulnerable individuals and families the stability of a permanent home with on-site services. Recent commitments by Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo to create more supportive housing will have a tremendous impact in increasing the supply of available units, but it is imperative that the City and State sign a fourth NY/NY supportive housing agreement to formalize and operationalize these commitments – an essential step for streamlining development and leveraging private investment – to offer real hope to so many like Fernando who have been languishing on the streets and in shelters for years.