By Marc Greenberg
The Interfaith Assembly in New York City – Helping rebuild lives after homelessness and helping to build a more equitable City.
The Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing is a coalition of over 60 congregations of many faiths working in the heart of New York City which addresses the issue of homelessness in two ways:
1- With a broad network of faith and community partners, the Assembly sponsors programs that help those who are homeless to help them find personal support and access the resources such as housing, benefits and employment that they need to rebuild their lives, and;
2- The Assembly works to establish public policies that will help those who are homeless and at risk of homelessness to be secure in their homes so that they can be full participants in our society.
Since their inception in 1990, these life-skills programs have assisted over 1,200 men and women to recover from the traumas and losses associated with their homelessness with very positive results – and now many graduates are themselves working with others who have been homeless. The Assembly and its faith partners sponsor programs for domestic violence survivors, homeless Veterans, ex-offenders, homeless youth and many others. The programs take place over 12 weeks and work with a group of between 8 and 12 individuals who, twice a week; share a family meal together; meet with individual mentors who help them identify and work towards achieving their personal goals; participate in group discussions led by community resource people on topics important to their recovery from homelessness; learn to share their personal stories with each other as vehicle for personal healing; and work with a social work intern to help identify resources needed to stabilize their lives. When these participants graduate, they invariably say “This feels like family”.
From the numerous stories of program graduates whose lives have changed for the better --- here is one. Shorne DeBique, is a gulf war combat veteran who became homeless after his employer closed shop and Shorne eventually could no longer pay his bills and lost his apartment. This financial crisis sent Shorne into a very depressed state and his hopes for the future became very dim. Fortunately, through one of the Interfaith Assembly’s partners, Shorne was able to get help through the VA to secure transitional housing and he came to the “Coming Home Life Skills Empowerment Program” down but hoping it would help him turn his life in the right direction. As a result of the support he received from his peers and from his mentor, Shorne began to see possibilities that were not there before. Shorne obtained a special Veteran’s street venders license and began to earn as he enrolled in school to become a substance abuse counselor. He has been vending successfully for the past two years and is close to completing his college courses. Shorne has been serving as a peer facilitator for the program participants who have come after him. Here is a clip of an interview of Shorne and Marc Greenberg, the Interfaith Assembly’s Executive Director. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=583ikeUAkn4
On the advocacy front, the Interfaith Assembly, has been working with a broad network of partners to address a whole set of public policies that led in large part to the presence of over 50,000 people in our shelter system, the highest number of homeless people in New York City’s history! With the election of Mayor Bill de Blasio, many believe that the homeless have the best friend in City Hall that they have had in over 30 years. One of the Mayor’s first appointments was to appoint Steven Banks to head the Human Resources Administration, a man who, for over 3 decades had been the lead attorney suing the city to provide adequate shelter for those who are homeless. The Mayor then re-instituted a rental subsidy program to help working homeless people to rent apartments and get out of the shelter. The cancelation of the previous rental subsidy had contributed to an increase of over ten thousand people in New York’s shelter system. The Mayor then established a plan to produce or preserve 200,000 units of housing in New York City over ten years – 50,000 more than what the advocates had been asking for.
So the Interfaith Assembly and its allies began our advocacy with the new administration in January of 2014 with the best opportunity in decades to truly impact this massive crisis - Working to build on the visionary policies of Mayor de Blasio with the objective of reducing significantly the numbers of homeless people in New York City. The Assembly’s public policy priorities for 2015 and beyond include:
1- Urging the de Blasio administration to set aside at least 10% of all new housing units in the 200,000 unit plan, for those who are homeless. Here is the Mayor’s plan http://www.nyc.gov/html/housing/pages/home/index.shtml
2- Establishing the Right to Legal Counsel in eviction proceedings in Housing Court --- which could save as many as 15,000 households a year from losing their homes simply because they don’t know and/or can’t defend their legal rights. (In NYC Housing court, 90% of landlords are represented by an attorney and only 10% of tenants have one). Here is the Right to Counsel Website. http://casapower.org/campaign-to-reform-housing-court-2/
3- Urging Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo to commit to the establishment of a plan (known as New York New York 4), over the next ten years, of 35,000 supportive housing units statewide for the most vulnerable New Yorkers – including mentally ill, mentally disabled, physically disabled and frail elderly. The Interfaith Assembly has been joined by nearly 220 faith leaders in calling on the Mayor and Governor to implement a NYNY4 agreement with 35,000 units statewide. Here NYNY4 website http://www.nynycampaign.org/and a link to that faith leader letter and list. http://www.iahh.org/blog/faith-leader-sign-letter-nyny4-housing-most-vulnerable-new-yorkers
The Interfaith Assembly works to engage those who have been homeless, faith leaders, housing and service providers, elected officials and all people of faith and good will in working together to “Build a Blessed City” where homelessness only occurs as a result of a short term emergency and is not a long term reality in a city and nation as generous and as humane as our faith traditions call us to be. The Assembly’s website is www.Iahh.org