A homelessness prevention program that’s helped hundreds of people keep their homes is getting a second home, itself.
The Housing Help Program, based at Bronx Housing Court, has assisted more than 700 families since it began in 2004. In the past year only two out of 300 people faced with a housing crisis and served by the program ended up in homeless shelters, according to Department of Homeless Services (DHS) spokesperson Linda Bazerjian. So, the multifaceted program aimed at resolving an urgent housing problem while addressing longer-term economic and social challenges is expanding to Brooklyn, and should be fully up and running by summer’s end.
Eligible tenants threatened with eviction in the Bronx can currently access services provided through program partners Women in Need, DHS and the Legal Aid Society. Domestic violence counseling, legal aid, substance abuse rehabilitation and help applying for government benefits are just some of the services available to tenants in the program, which also gets funding from private sponsors. Now, after notable success in the Bronx, the program’s main players— city Civil Court, United Way of NYC and DHS – recently announced their plans to replicate the approach in Brooklyn.
Denise Smoot, a 55-year-old mother of six, is one success story. She didn’t even know that her Section 8 housing subsidy voucher had been suspended when she was called to appear in housing court this winter. Through the program, she was assigned an attorney, got her vouchers back and has been offered childcare and other services. “I think it should expand to every borough because it helped me so much and I learned a lot—that tenants do have rights too,” Smoot said.
Smoot intends to keep seeing her social worker even after her present crisis is resolved and to rely on the comprehensive approach to housing issues that Civil Court Administrative Judge Fern A. Fisher, who thought up the program, envisioned. “We don’t let go of their hand at the end of a housing court case,” said Fisher. “That’s what’s very novel about the program.”