Avoiding Shelters, NYC Homeless Need Alternative Support

August 5, 2015 Updated: August 5, 2015

Your August 1st article, “Thousands of Homeless Sleep on NYC Streets, Here’s Why They Don’t Have To,” underscores the need for those at the city and state level to come together and reenvision the city’s single homeless services system. It also pinpoints the components of a policy strategy that should be employed to address the long time reality of homeless adults choosing the streets over their unique right to shelter.

As your article mentions, one component of a viable policy solution is addressing the mental health and substance abuse prevalent in single homeless adults. Discussions during a May 2015 roundtable with First Lady Chirlane McCray and shelter providers regarding specialized shelters for those with mental health issues and a higher level of violence are a good starting point (See May 19th Services for the Underserved press release.) Also promising is the training of five to ten thousand NYPD officers to deal with emotionally disturbed persons who are often those living on the streets.

In the first five years of the most recent New York City/State supportive housing agreement, New York City chronic homelessness decreased by almost one-half.

A critical component of a policy solution is creating more viable alternatives to shelter as well as the unregulated three-quarter houses recently investigated by the NY Times. One such alternative is the drop-in centers mentioned in the August 1st Epoch Times article. For forty years, Urban Pathways has ensured that homeless and at-risk New Yorkers have the housing, services, and support they need to be self-sufficient. The Urban Pathways-operated Olivieri Drop In-Center in Manhattan offers on-site medical, mental health, and substance abuse assessments as well as access to meals, clothing, showers, and recovery programs to nearly 100 homeless individuals each day. The city has extended the operating hours of Olivieri to 24/7, year round, and per the Department of Homeless Services May 2015 Executive Budget testimony, plans to open two additional drop-in centers.

Another viable alternative to shelters is the safe havens, also referenced in the August 1st article. Safe havens provide temporary shelter and services to those unwilling to enter city shelters or unable to commit to treatment or recovery as a condition to accessing shelter. They also provide a transitional period to begin the rehabilitative process and recover from the harshness of the streets. New York City has recognized the utility of safe havens. There are ten in four boroughs. Urban Pathways operates Hegeman Safe Haven in Brooklyn and Travelers Safe Haven in Manhattan, which house 91 homeless individuals. Recognizing the utility of the model, the city recently increased its homeless outreach budget to fund over 300 safe haven beds.

A single homelessness policy solution is incomplete without the inclusion of supportive housing, affordable housing combined with support services tailored to individual needs. Supportive housing is effective. In the first five years of the most recent New York City/State supportive housing agreement, New York City chronic homelessness decreased by almost one-half. Its utility, in part, stems from the stabilization it provides to those who have lived extremely unstable lives, including those who have lived on the streets.

For too long, individuals have resisted city homeless shelters for a subway seat or park bench. Understanding their motivations, let’s now develop a single adult homeless system response that addresses this reality.

Frederick Shack, LMSW
Chief Executive Officer, Urban Pathways, Inc.
New York

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.