As one of the wealthiest cities in the world, New York City has long battled the tragic irony of homelessness among its residents – the indignity of those sleeping on the street or in the ever-rising numbers of families and children in shelters.
The reality is that affordable housing is unattainable to many middle-income families, let alone the 43 percent of the population that lives at or below the poverty line.
Yet there are valuable programs in place that, with commitment and accountability, enable homeless New Yorkers to be housed and regain the dignity to achieve a better future for themselves and their children.
First among them is NYC 15/15, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2015 pledge to create 15,000 units of supportive housing by 2030. Supportive housing, in which formerly homeless individuals and families can attain their own lease and key with 30 percent of their income, provides the stability and supportive services that are proven to work. Across Jericho’s nine supportive housing residences, including three specifically for veterans, 95 percent of our residents do not return to homelessness.
In 2018, Jericho Project opened the first of NYC 15/15’s supportive housing residences with 89 studio apartments for veterans and young, largely LGBTQ+, adults. With on-site counselors providing services that enable mental health and wellness, employment skills and confidence-building, our residents are setting attaining their personal and professional goals.
Across the city, New York City 15/15 is adding on average 1,000 units of supportive housing each year.
Another positive strategy came as a result of the City Council’s recent passage of legislation guaranteeing that homeless households get access to 15 percent of new City-funded housing developments with more than 40 units. Led by Councilman Rafael Salamanca, the new bill is expected to add another 1,000 units per year for homeless individuals and families.
It’s a tremendous step forward. Yet to ensure ongoing continuity and effectiveness, it can be strengthened. Landlords of residential buildings receiving city money are covered by the bill. There needs to be a reliable mechanism in place so that these units will continue to be dedicated to homeless individuals and families in the long-term. .
Given the crucial role that supportive services play in preventing future homelessness, landlords must also step up as stakeholders in the success of these families. Landlords need to partner with community-based nonprofits and government offices to ensure families have the support they need to transition from homelessness to permanent housing.
One painful point of contention around this bill has been including homeless families along with middle and lower-income New Yorkers. I would ask opponents to think of the children enduring the stigma of homelessness. By enabling them to be part of a larger community – in an economically diverse apartment building – they and their parents begin to regain the dignity and self-esteem that provide the oxygen of independence.
Finally, we can utilize programs such as Rapid Rehousing to move people out of shelters at a faster rate. Our agency works with a network of collaborative landlords to place veterans and young adults in clean, safe apartments throughout the City. Jericho covers the burden of a security deposit and first month’s rent, and the government funds their rent at a set rate for up to a year. With a place to start over, formerly homeless individuals can get jobs, begin saving and acquire financial management skills.
If we can reduce the average stay in a shelter from one year to 90 days, we can quadruple the number of people served annually and better leverage taxpayer dollars.
As someone who has spent most of her career getting to know the thousands of individuals and families that Jericho has housed and helped get on with their lives, I can attest that homeless individuals and families are like any other New Yorkers with dreams and goals for themselves and their families.
Even in the face of obstacles such as trauma-induced substance abuse and intergenerational poverty, our residents have tackled their issues, built careers and reunited with children – literally remaking their lives for the better.
Homeless people deserve the dignity of an affordable home so that they can thrive and continue to be productive citizens of this great city.
We need to champion the kinds of programs that give them that chance.
Tori Lyon is CEO of Jericho Project.