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Common Ground, a nonprofit organization, has created more than 2,000 units of permanent and transitional housing for the homeless since 1990.
The group has shown that people with psychiatric and other problems can better manage them once they are permanently housed and provided with services.
This success is even more impressive because Common Ground deliberately seeks out the most difficult cases, including people who have spent years on the street and cycling in and out of jail. Supportive housing costs substantially less than homeless shelters - and many times less than jail cells or hospital rooms.
It canvasses the streets in the wee hours of the morning, documenting the homeless population and then trying to persuade those who spend the most time on the streets to seek permanent housing, even if they still have drug, alcohol or medical problems. Some of those involved in the issue of homelessness consider Common Ground a pioneer in this approach in the United States.
Common Ground's founder Rosanne Haggerty says the projects are about much more than putting a roof over a head. "This is about creating a small town, rather than just a building," she says. "It's about a real mixed society, working with many different people."
Haggerty's innovative work was recognized in 2001 when she was selected as a MacArthur Fellow. The MacArthur Foundation praised her work in salvaging historic buildings, renovating them through creative financing from public and private sources and partnering with social service organizations to give homeless and low-income residents more than just a roof over their heads. In selecting Haggerty for its prestigious award, the MacArthur Foundation noted: "The success of these projects has called into question long-standing assumptions about low-income housing, such as the mix of populations that can live together harmoniously and the maximum efficient scale of such facilities."
The Director of Common Ground's Innovations Department, Becky Kanis, made clear the count is only the first step to solving street homelessness. "The important part is what we do with this information," she said. "We want to move from crisis management to lasting solutions. Other cities have done that successfully. We plan to do the same."
Becky Kanis also commented that they're really happy DHS is adopting the count throughout the city. They see it as a sign that they're taking street homelessness seriously. "At the real end of the day the only thing that's going to matter is the people who have been thus far completely unwilling to accept the offers of shelter, etc. by outreach workers," she said. "Can we reach them and make a positive difference in their lives? What can we do compassionately to help these people who have, for all practical purposes, fallen through the cracks of society? That's where our focus is; that's what matters."
"We don't know exactly what's going to work here in New York," Kanis concluded, "but we know what's worked in other cities. Therefore, we're going to spend our efforts doing those things, and as we find smarter and better ways to do things we will adopt them.
Street to Home incorporates strategic targeting of individuals and intensive followup modeled on the successful approach used in the United Kingdom's Rough Sleepers Initiative. The Rough Sleepers Initiative achieved a 75% reduction in street homelessness across England and prompted deeper investment in homelessness from Parliament.
Identify and prioritize. Assess and negotiate. House and retain. Those are the three key elements of the targeted strategy of New York's Street to Home initiative, a partnership of Common Ground Community and the Times Square Alliance, and the strategy has reduced homelessness by 87% over two years. In the last year alone, Common Ground's Street to Home moved 54 people from the streets directly into housing. The City of New York this month adopted Street to Home as the citywide strategy to reduce street homelessness by two-thirds within three years. Common Ground will direct all efforts on the streets of midtown Manhattan and throughout the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens.
First setting their sights on a 20-block neighborhood with one of the highest levels of homelessness in the city, Common Ground focused on securing housing for those who have been living on the street the longest and need housing the most among the average of 55 people on the streets and sidewalks of Times Square. Street to Home replaced the random "first come, first served" approach with a targeted, strategic process: identify and prioritize the most vulnerable individuals on the street, assess and negotiate housing options with those individuals, then house and retain.
Identify and Prioritize: Street to Home partners with Business Improvement District public safety officers or community outreach workers who - because they are on the front lines every day - have a thorough knowledge of the people continually living on their streets. These ambassadors are then trained by Common Ground in approaches to introduce clients to a housing team that will help them to secure housing. A simple tracking tool enables workers to differentiate between those who are consistently in the targeted area - "anchors" - and those who are transients. The role of "anchor" individuals in street homelessness was identified in the Rough Sleepers Initiative, with subsequent targeting of those individuals yielding greater success - a tipping point - in engaging and moving individuals in the surrounding area. Common Ground developed a research-based Vulnerability Index to take the guesswork out of outreach and offer a rational system for prioritizing the most vulnerable homeless for housing.
Assess and Negotiate: Because most people who have lived on the streets for a long time are suffering from multiple disabilities and are usually eligible for some form of housing subsidy, Common Ground trains service providers in how to assess for eligibility for housing, services, and benefits, and tips on expediting this process. With the immediacy of the housing offer in hand for the individual, Street to Home uses techniques derived from Motivational Interviewing and Trauma Informed Care in working with clients to negotiate placement into housing. Street to Home assesses each individual's eligibility for subsidized housing and income benefits and walks each person through the process of obtaining permanent housing- registering for disability or income support benefits, completing medical and psychiatric tests, and finding an apartment that fits the person's needs.
House and Retain: Common Ground has now helped more than 175 adults - who had been homeless an average of 9.9 years - move from the streets directly into permanent housing since the start of Street to Home. According to their experience, once inside, 90% are able to maintain their housing. Most individuals who have lived on the streets for long periods don't wish to live in a shelter but want and are successful in their own homes. Moving inside begins their reintegration into society. Some clients of Street to Home have re-established relationships with family members. Many are working or have returned to school. - United States Interagency Council on Homelessness
The Prince George Ballroom
For decades the Prince George Hotel, with its burnished wood, lavishly detailed ceilings and classical columns welcomed visitors to [Edith Wharton]'s New York. But then the hotel declined, becoming one of New York's notorious welfare hotels in the 1980s, when it housed about 1,600 people. The city closed it in 1989. Today, the hotel on East 28th Street has reopened, combining aspects of both of its previous incarnations. It once again provides housing to the formerly homeless, but the number of residents is far less, and they are able to take advantage of supportive services right in the building. At the same time, the Prince George has been restored to its former glory in what now has become one of Manhattan's official historic districts, called Madison Square North, with particular attention to its once-again elegant ballroom, a grand gathering place.
In 2004, Common Ground launched an ambitious project to restore the 5,000-square-foot (460 m2) ballroom and adjacent former Hunt Room. The project presented an opportunity to offer needed training and jobs. Common Ground, working with four other non-profit groups, arranged for at-risk youth, high school students interested in restoration arts, architectural students, and individuals with HIV/AIDS to work on the renovation. Students at the Parsons School designed and built an entry foyer and gallery space in what had been the Hunt Room. Faced with an area that was beyond restoration, the students developed an airy, modern space that is now the World Monuments Fund Gallery , which serves as a special exhibition and events space.
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