As supportive housing continues to be a necessity for individuals across New York City, Unique People Services’ (UPS) social workers, clinicians and case managers are working together to create safe havens and essential resources for hundreds in need. Our Bronx-based agency operates nearly 30 supportive housing programs across New York City, serving more than 500 residents, many of whom are formerly homeless and living with serious mental health challenges and HIV/AIDS.
Individuals come to the agency extremely fragile, after living in shelters or on the streets. Many have been cut off from their families and are unable to cope with psychiatric disorders or chemical dependency that have severely impacted their lives. Our transitional and long-term housing is instrumental to the recovery process, giving individuals increased stability and more independence to reach their optimal health as they try to overcome addiction, trauma and other struggles they faced while living on the street.
To align with the city’s shift toward community-based settings for mentally challenged individuals, we are helping to decrease the need for institutional care through our Community Residence Single Room Occupancy (CR/SRO) residences, Haven and Hunter Apartments, both located in the Bronx.
Approximately 100 formerly homeless men and women reside at Haven and Hunter, receiving case management, medication monitoring, and nutritional and recreational services, with the goal of decreasing hospitalizations, enhancing community integration and ensuring residents maintain their housing. Referrals are made for medical and psychological care and substance abuse counseling.
The meticulously kept residences are well lit with welcoming environments, designed to eliminate the institutional feel many residents previously experienced. Twenty-four hour manned reception desks provide added safety and security; meals are offered at a nominal cost for individuals who do not cook.
To keep residents on the right path, case managers help them set goals while staying vigilant to observe any behavioral changes that may occur. Repeatedly missing meetings with a case manager or poor spending habits (such as excessive purchases of lottery scratch-off games) is often a sign of a deeper issue.
The anxiety many individuals felt while living in shelters is channeled into positive energy by staff. We have ensured that residents are linked to vocational training and eventually employment. Many have reconnected with loved ones, demonstrating renewed self-confidence, thanks to the greater independence they have achieved.
One such individual, K.A., sought long-term housing so he could be reunited with his son and raise him in a stable environment. With the help of UPS staff, K.A. received job coaching and essential parenting tips, while navigating the New York City school system. He was able to move from his transitional residence into an affordable and permanent two-bedroom apartment (at 30% of his benefits). He also obtained part-time employment, which has enabled him to pay his bills on time. In court, UPS case managers advocated for K.A., helping him gain full custody of his son. He remains determined to give his child everything he needs to succeed in life.
For others, the journey toward hope and recovery is not always as smooth. One of our individuals, diagnosed with mental illness and HIV, began abusing drugs, even rummaging through trash to try to score his next hit. UPS case managers consulted with a community health partner whose assessment struck a chord about the vital role supportive housing plays: our individual has food to eat, a place to lay his head, and case managers to talk to. Supportive housing literally saves lives. Without it, ramifications can be tragic if individuals do not have a stable place to improve their behavioral health and gain sound peace of mind.
UPS’ commitment to population health extends to our support of the #Not62 campaign, a borough-wide call-to-action to improve health outcomes in the Bronx, ranked last among all 62 New York Counties in Robert Wood Johnson’s 2016 County Health Ranking Report. We also stand united with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to end the AIDS epidemic in New York State by decreasing new HIV infections to 750 per year.
Our supportive housing programs have served more than 1,000 individuals with HIV/AIDS within the past five years. Funded by the New York City Human Resources HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HRA/HASA), the program assists individuals with securing entitlements while referring them to necessary services to foster increased independence and stability. Many residents are linked to medical and psychological care, substance abuse counseling, health home services and job placement services to help them get back on their feet. On-site nurses provide medication monitoring to ensure individuals adhere to their treatment plans, while a Program Advisory Board oversees service delivery. Monthly home visits and ten office visits are conducted by case managers to track residents’ progress, and make sure they successfully maintain their housing.
The Scatter Site Program has a growth rate of 100%, with 40 units added every two years. Anyone earning an income is required to cover the cost of rent and utilities; additional support is provided by the program or through public assistance. For individuals ineligible to receive HASA services, UPS provides temporary Scatter Site housing through its HOPWA Program, delivering support services to undocumented New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS. The program is funded by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
This fall, we will embark upon the next phase of our Continuum of Care – the opening of Lynn’s Place, the agency’s first affordable housing complex for low income New Yorkers and mentally challenged individuals. The 69-unit, energy efficient residence, located in the Bronx, will play an integral role in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 15-year plan to create 15,000 units of supportive housing, helping to curb homelessness and ease the strain of housing costs. Sixty percent of Bronx residents currently earn below the median household income.
First Lady of New York City Chirlane McCray was among several city officials who attended the December 2015 groundbreaking of Lynn’s Place, calling the complex a “launch pad to a better life” for mentally challenged residents who will soon call Lynn’s Place home.
As we continue to grow our supportive and affordable housing programs, we have also expanded staffing to facilitate this crucial process. In January, Diane Louard-Michel was hired to oversee acquisition, development and management of UPS’ supportive housing projects, after a 20-year career at Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH), where she executed complex service modeling and large-scale housing finance projects. As UPS’ Senior Director of Real Estate and Development, Diane leads community engagement strategies to identify potential impacts and innovative funding scenarios.
Through strong relationship building and community partnerships, our agency looks forward to collaborating with agencies citywide to create pathways of opportunities for New York’s lower income working class and many other unique individuals in need. To give someone a key to a physical space where they can be safe and cared for in a home they can afford is truly the epitome of hope for a successful future.
For more information on UPS’ programs and services, visit our website at www.uniquepeopleservices.org.