I had the opportunity to join the Chartered Institute of Housing’s tour of New York, facilitated by Nick Falvo. I’ll be sharing some reflections from the tour in the next several posts.
Day 1 took us to the Bronx, opening with services provided by BronxWorks and a focus on their ‘safe havens’. I’ll note that having spent time in Brooklyn yesterday and having found it to be massively gentrified, the Bronx is still much more diverse with far more visible poverty. This bears out in statistics on average income across the five boroughs of New York, with the Bronx being the lowest by a whopping $24,000.
We were informed that New York follows a Housing First model. However, we were also informed that with complicated paperwork to get in, requirements to have been chronically homeless, and high housing costs, the only difference really that the Housing First model makes is not requiring treatment or sobriety. It hasn’t really made it any faster to get people into housing (sound familiar?). Prioritization manages the bottleneck but doesn’t remove it.
What the safe havens do provide is more flexibility than shelters around coming and going, no max length of stay, and the two sites we saw were private spaces rather than congregate. The one site had high security checks at the door and room checks each 2 hours, which I noted screen out the majority of people who use substances regularly. The other site seemed more relaxed and spoke to harm reduction services, but it is noted that in the U.S. this doesn’t not mean supervised consumption or managed alcohol in the vast majority of services. Supervised consumption in particular is brand new to the U.S. and exceptionally rare.
The workers noted that the majority of those leaving the safe havens to housing are going into supportive options. This was good to hear as permanent supportive housing at least in the Ontario environment feels like a unicorn. You hear about it, but never actually find it. This makes sense for New York because they have a legislated right to shelter, so supporting people in housing is better than expanding a shelter system that already has somewhere in the realm of 70,000 beds.
One take-away for me was the existence of directly state-funded services such as subway outreach. In most provinces other than B.C. and Quebec, provincial governments seem to be mostly abandoning housing and homelessness services to municipalities, and I say abandoning because the divestment isn’t coming with funds that scale to the increased need. I’ll definitely be asking more about the relationship with the City and the State.