Coalition for the Homeless – Safety Net Newsletter | Autumn 2004
As a founding member of the Coalition for the Homeless, Ellen Baxter has a unique perspective on the history and progression of homeless advocacy efforts in New York City. Spanning 25 years, her work in this area began in 1979, while conducting research on homelessness for the Community Service Society of New York together with Kim Hopper. As they spoke with homeless people and listened to their stories and strategies for survival, Ellen and Kim met Robert Hayes, the lawyer who at the time was preparing to file Callahan v. Carey, the landmark class action lawsuit that guaranteed the lifesaving right to shelter in New York City. Soon thereafter, the Coalition was formed, with Ellen and Kim on its Board of Directors. Two decades later, still a Coalition board member as well as the Executive Director of Broadway Housing Communities, Ellen’s commitment to homeless and low-income New Yorkers has never waned.
Ellen attributes the growth of the Coalition over the years to “the remarkable dedication of the staff who are genuinely invested in serving homeless people with the dignity they deserve.” Further, she believes that the organization has received the support of the New York community because “fundamentally…most New Yorkers feel the inhumanity of homelessness every time they pass someone on the street.” Broadway Housing Communities is a non-profit organization that aims to end homelessness through supportive housing. This term refers to affordable housing complemented by on-site social and/or educational services for adults and families, and a field in which Ellen has been a pioneer and innovator. This model is particularly effective, Ellen says, because “the stability of a permanent home offers a foundation for services to become meaningful.”
While supportive housing has become a nationally recognized cost-effective solution to homelessness among single adults over the past fifteen years, Ellen states that new models focused on families have been developed in the recent past. Coalition for the Homeless, for example, currently provides supportive housing to single mothers who needed housing in order to be reunited with their children in foster care, families at risk of homelessness, as well as single men and women, and individuals and families living with HIV and AIDS. Clearly the issues and challenges that the Coalition addresses every day are close to Ellen Baxter’s heart. “Homelessness reveals a gaping schism in the principle of justice in New York City where we certainly have the expertise and resources to fulfill the right of people to housing,” she explains. “I believe most people would agree that a place to live is a basic right.” The Coalition is extremely fortunate to count Ellen as one of the dedicated and caring individuals on its Board of Directors.