May 4, 2022
Greetings Chairperson Ayala and Members of the General Welfare Committee.
My name is Jody Rudin and I am the CEO of ICL – the Institute for Community Living, a nonprofit that provides whole health services to approximately 13,000 individuals a year. Many of our clients live with the most significant mental health challenges and often experience concurrent substance use disorder.
A substantial number of our clients also currently or have previously experienced street homelessness. We provide them with comprehensive health services delivered on the streets or in our clinics and we also provide transitional shelters for about 3200 clients a year and supportive and residential housing for an additional 2200 individuals.
The main point I’d like to impart today is that through innovative solutions and interventions we can more successfully address street homelessness.
I know this to be a fact. From 2006 to 2016 I worked at the Department for Homeless Services, where, among other roles, I served as Deputy Commissioner of Adult services, leading a division of 500 staff and overseeing the shelter system for single adults and adult families and managing services for people sleeping on the streets.
At DHS, I managed the redesign of outreach services that led to a single responsible nonprofit provider per borough working with the street homeless population. I played a central role in bringing the Safe Haven and stabilization bed models to New York City. As a result, we saw a 40 percent reduction in people sleeping on the streets.
I want to commend Mayor Adams for his historic investment in Safe Havens, stabilization beds, and Drop-in Centers.
When we focus on an issue and bring innovative, evidence-based solutions to the table, at scale – proportionate to the need – we get results. I’ve seen it happen and I believe we can make huge progress given the mayor’s investment.
When I was at DHS, the single most important thing we did was to ask the people living on the streets what they wanted and needed and what would convince them to come inside. This included asking them about program preference, neighborhood preference, and whether they wanted a roommate or a single room.
We treated people living on the streets with dignity and respect. We gave them choices and applied a person-centered approach to our work. I believe that was key to our success in significantly reducing street homelessness.
When we closed encampments we put options on the table that people told us they wanted and we offered opportunities for people to come off the streets. We created opportunities for them to enter housing as a community.
The Safe Haven and stabilization bed models emerged as solutions based on those conversations. These are programs people experiencing street homelessness told us they wanted. We saw enormous declines in street homelessness then and I believe that we will see it again with this new funding.
But I believe we need to do more to create a more permanent solution – and faster than we can build buildings. I want to encourage you to fix the barriers that prevent us from expanding the scatter site housing model, which can get more apartments online today.
Scatter site apartments provide both housing and support services to people who have previously been homeless and who experience mental health conditions and/or substance use disorder.
The problem with the model is the low fee paid by government entities for renting units and the insufficient funding provided to nonprofits to support service delivery that enables tenants to be stably and safely housed.
Many nonprofits have walked away from managing scatter site units because of the funding shortages. ICL has stuck with the program because we believe that while it’s not perfect, it is good and does provide housing we would otherwise not have for thousands of individuals who would flood shelters and streets.
We hope the scatter site funding model problems can be addressed. We believe many more people can be housed with this program – and housed quickly. After all, housing is our North Star in addressing street homelessness. Housing is health and with stable housing we can address the whole health of a person, including the social determinants of health that account for 80% of our health status.
Another way to people experiencing street homelessness is to tackle the health challenges first. We do that extremely successfully with the IMT program, which the city has expanded in the last few years.
IMT meets people where they are—on the streets, in hospitals, shelters, anywhere. The reason it’s successful is because it treats the whole person and addresses social determinants of health.
IMT teams don’t just work to have clients address mental health concerns, but also ensure their physical health needs are cared for, that they do not go hungry, that they have access to the benefits to which they are entitled. It is a great model worthy of replication. And we have seen it work many, many times to bring someone from the streets to stable housing and better health.
People live on the streets for many reasons. One big reason is that significant mental health challenges – and often concurrent substance use disorder – create overwhelming barriers to finding stability. These individuals have often experienced significant traumas and systemic racism that has led them to where they are today. To them we owe it to do better, to do more to help them feel better. None of this work is easy – and it’s not cheap. But, it is our responsibility as a civil society to do this work – and do more of it as the need increases.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify before you today.