The Value of a Place of One’s Own (or An Ode to Permanent Housing)
The afternoon of day 1 brought us to Community Access, a large organization providing housing and supports primarily geared towards persons living with mental illnesses in New York.
There was something different here, something…humane. Even the space felt welcoming, dignified, just pleasant. The language used by staff and management of equity, rights, social justice. “This is their forever home.” “It’s not like we screen people out for having illnesses, that’s our whole point.” “Eviction is a failure and the absolute last, last resort.”
Permanent housing, with supports, it just seems like the only real answer to ending homelessness…permanently. In this case the supports are a bit less than we might see in Canada with organizations like Indwell, who do medication management as well, but at Community Access there are: food assistance, supports for kids and teens, computer assistance, and just general staff assistance as needed. Other shelter services feel like stop-gaps or stepping stones to what people need, a dignified place to live at a rent geared to their income. And boy, are they serious about geared to income here! (Not Canada’s ‘affordable’ housing b.s. of 80% market rent, or “last year’s rent price” as one attendee stated so aptly.) At a set 30% of income, rents there ranged from $150 to $800. In New York!
Is this perfect though? Nope, there’s still one glaring gap. Where the previous organization screened out those who were most obviously using substances, Community Access as “a family building with children” screens out those with recent criminal records. This again means that there is a group of folks with highest needs and highest use of substances who don’t fit in either location. Will any of the other organizations over the next two days fill this gap? I’m skeptical seeing who I see in the streets, it seems like there are still many who are visibly using substances who find no other place to go.