New York City seeks to improve homeless outreach program

Wednesday, May 3, 2017
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Tim Fleischer has the story

NEW YORK, New York (WABC) -- New York City is looking to improve its homeless outreach program, which has helped transition nearly 800 homeless workers off the street and into permanent homes.

Living on the street, "John", who asked his real name not be released, was being checked on by three outreach workers who are part of Home-Stat, the city's homeless outreach and mobile engagement street action team.

Program director Erica Strang, who began as an outreach worker, knows how difficult is is to gain the confidence of the city's homeless.

"They immediately tense up. 'Who are you? Who are you with? I don't want to go to a shelter. I'm okay,'" she said. "We want to come in and provide another option for them."

The team's goal is to get "John" to permanent housing.

"We just keep going back and going back and going back until they agree to talk to us," Strang said. "And we can build up that trust."

The teams work 24/7, and the number of workers has doubled in size to 400 throughout the city in the last year.

"For many years, the problem has been looked at as numbers," Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks said. "It's about human beings, and a case-by-case approach is what has enabled us to bring 740 people off the street last year."

According to the Coalition for the Homeless, there are nearly 62,000 homeless living in city shelters. Now, officials are hoping to build 15,000 new units for the homeless.

"The first 550 of those units will come online this year," Banks said. "And that is going to be a very important tool for us to bring everyone off the streets."

Lauren Taylor is a deputy director of the Manhattan Outreach Consortium, a group of three non-for-profit organizations under contract with the city serving the homeless since 2007.

"It takes follow up," Taylor said. "It takes multiple tries and different services or different opportunities to get that person to housing, but we stick with them no matter what."

In an effort to improve outreach efforts, new "swarm teams" will begin work in June with intensive canvassing in all five boroughs.

"To help us focus on those individuals, we gather information and connect them to teams," Banks said.

In "John's" case, outreach workers first met him last fall and were able to get him into housing for several months, but he returned to the streets.

"We built the relationship," Strang said. "They know we are here. They know we have services, and when they are ready to go, and they are ready to make that change, they come to us."

And with help, they are no longer homeless.