Community Service Society Of New York | Winter 1999
This person was able to pull her life together because of a supportive housing program started by CSS. In 1979, CSS began to develop an integrated model of permanent housing for homeless and low-income individuals and families in the communities of Washington Heights and Upper Harlem. The project is led by CSS’s Director of Community Housing, Ellen Baxter.
Based on CSS research, the model followed the idea that homelessness could best be fought by providing people with a stable and permanent place to live along with social services, to address personal problems. The movement was accelerated in 1981 by the release of a CSS research publication, Private Lives/ Public Spaces, that disclosed as many as 36,000 people were homeless in New York City and living on the streets. Instead of warehousing the homeless in shelters — a dead-end solution — supportive housing gives people pride in their own homes and help in meeting the problems of everyday life in the city.
Beginning in 1983, two not-for-profit organizations, the Committee for the Heights Inwood Homeless and the Broadway Housing Development Fund, were established to secure financing to acquire and renovate five buildings. They currently house 220 tenants. CSS joined with other housing advocates and service providers to promote supportive housing — a humane and cost-effective solution to the problem of homelessness.
The Center for Urban Community Services, an independent agency, runs an on-site program to provide tenants with employment, medical, mental health, and social services assistance. Tenants include those with special needs, such as AIDS, mental illness, and addictions, as well as those who are healthy and employed.
Nearly one-fourth of the tenants in the five supportive housing buildings take active roles in management operations. On weekends and in the evenings, when no staff members are present on the premises, tenants assume full responsibility for building operations.
Supportive housing has evolved since the first site, The Heights, was occupied in early 1986. The idea has spread across the state and country. The Supportive Housing Network of New York was organized in 1987 to develop supportive housing statewide. It now comprises over 50 agencies sponsoring more than 11,000 living units. Similarly, the Corporation for Supportive Housing was formed in 1991 to replicate and expand the supportive housing model on a nationwide basis. There are now active programs in nine cities, assisting 6,000 units of supportive housing.
CSS’s Ellen Baxter is currently searching for additional buildings in New York City to expand the program to families with special needs. Supportive housing would give families with members suffering from addictions or those being reunited after foster care a chance to stay together. In addition, with new emphasis on welfare-to-work policies, families will be assisted with employment opportunities, child day care facilities, and supports to maintain their housing.