The influx of migrant people into New York City, not only a humanitarian crisis but also a financial one, has shone an unsparing light on our chronic shortage of affordable housing. As local, state and federal administrations spar over how to shelter incoming migrant people and determine who will pay for it, we must not lose sight of the long-term housing solutions that work, and commit more funding to them for the benefit of all New Yorkers.
The shelter system, swelling above an unfathomable 100,000, has eclipsed its original intent as a temporary stop for individuals and families up to 90 days. Even before the current crisis, many languish there for much longer. The average family stays in shelter for more than 17 months, a single adult more than 16.
In contrast, permanent supportive housing is a proven pathway to stability by providing an individual or family with the dignity of their own lease and comprehensive services to get them back on their feet.
It’s important to remember that the experience of homelessness, or even coming very close to it, is traumatic. Getting people housed efficiently and affordably is part of the solution. Ensuring that they can sustain it requires a compassionate and therapeutic approach.
Unfortunately, the process of applying for permanent supportive housing is hampered upon arrival in a shelter by delays in evaluations and documentation. Once a person meets the criteria due to mental health and other challenges, there is typically a long wait, with only one apartment available for every six people who qualify.
Those who do can rent their own apartment for 30% of their income. Case managers are available on site, building trusting relationships and connecting residents to employment counseling, mental and physical health care, and community gatherings. Among the nine such residences that Jericho Project operates – including three built specifically for veterans – 95% of our residents do not return to homelessness.
The challenge is that this kind of long-term solution takes time to plan, fund and build – and it’s clear we can’t scale it fast enough, but we can get creative. Even in the face of rising rents in New York, we have found other ways to fast-track individuals and families out of shelters and into independent, affordable housing.
"Rapid-rehousing” is a program helping people find and pay for suitable apartments and lay the foundation for them to remain there on their own. As such it is a powerful bridge for families and individuals to exit a shelter – or avoid it altogether. Funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for individuals, young adults and families, and by the VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program for veterans, Jericho’s strategy is aimed at people who may not need the same level of services as in permanent supportive housing, and can live independently with some financial and service support. By collaborating with a trusted network of landlords, we can move individuals or families who are in shelter or at risk of homelessness into safe, affordable apartments. Starting with a 12-month lease, rapid rehousing can provide financial and counseling support 12-24 months depending on the program.
This gives households time to get their bearings and affords them the professional support to prepare for long-term stability. Clinical therapists help them tackle mental health issues. Counselors coach them to budget and manage finances. Employment specialists build resumes and confidence. Financial assistance with up-front costs for security and rental deposits is a simple and relatively low-cost way to eliminate an overwhelming obstacle.
It takes partnership. We are grateful for our landlords’ partnership with us. In turn we pledge to ensure they are financially intact and intercede in any misunderstandings that may arise. After the completion of the program, our counselors stay in touch with residents for six months to help navigate bumps in the road and reinforce success.
Solutions exist. We must not become numb to the inhumanity of homelessness, and we must also not take a nearsighted approach to solving the issue. Instead, we must channel our compassion – and our public and private funding – into proven and time-tested solutions like supportive and rapid rehousing programs that work to end homelessness for good.
Tori Lyon is the CEO of Jericho Project.