Homelessness Prevention Goal Of Court-Based Program In South Bronx, Ny
The Civil Court of the City of New York, United Way of New York City, Legal Services for New York City-Bronx and Women In Need have implemented an innovative new homelessness prevention program–the first of its kind in the nation–targeting a neighborhood in the South Bronx that has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the city.
The Housing Help Program, spearheaded by New York City Civil Court Administrative Judge Fern Fisher, tackles the problem of homelessness head-on, with a new approach to the handling of eviction cases that includes a specially trained judge and dedicated court team to handle these cases from start to finish, as well as supportive services to address underlying reasons for nonpayment, such as job training, family counseling and substance abuse programs.
According to the New York City Department of Homeless Services, approximately 36,500 individuals–ncluding 15,000 children–sleep in city shelters each night.
The Housing Help Program was developed by the Civil Court and United Way, with United Way providing $1 million in funding and the Court providing in-kind services. The Housing Help Program is the first initiative of United Way’s Homelessness Prevention Action Area, one of five Action Areas the organization is focusing on under its Community Action strategy. It is also one of eight homelessness prevention initiatives included in the City’s recently released five-year action plan to end chronic homelessness, which aims to decrease homelessness by two-thirds in five years.
The program consists of two integrated parts: a court-based unit operated by LSNY-Bronx and located right next door to the courtroom where these cases will be heard; and a community-based unit, operated by Women In Need, which provides a variety of social services to the Bronx community.
The court-based unit provides legal and general social services to prevent homelessness while an individual’s legal case is pending. The community-based unit offers more in-depth social services to prevent future eviction and homelessness.
Working together, the two units will offer an integrated set of services that includes full social service and legal intake and assessment, legal representation or advice, access to income and other government benefits, and specialized services that address the core economic and social issues contributing to a family’s housing vulnerability.
Hon. Fern Fisher, Administrative Judge of the New York City Civil Court who originated the idea and collaborated with United Way of New York City to develop the program, stated, “Rather than simply deciding a case and then shutting our eyes to what happens after a family leaves the doors of our courthouse, it’s time to think about future outcomes-what best serves the needs of the litigants and society long term. If the Court can play a role in linking families with essential services that could prevent a slide into homelessness, and in the process lessen the economic and social burden homelessness imposes on the entire community, we would be remiss in not doing so. I am very grateful to the United Way for helping develop the program and generously agreeing to fund it, as well as to Legal Services and Women In Need for their vital participation in the Housing Help Program.”
Lawrence Mandell, president and CEO of United Way of New York City, added: “We are especially pleased to work with DHS to ensure what we do regarding homelessness prevention complements the City’s own efforts in this neighborhood. In the first year, the program will provide 650 families with short- and long-term services, and track the prevention of current and future housing crises. Over the next three years, we will monitor for results and hold ourselves and our partners accountable for achieving those outcomes. We hope to make a measurable difference on the rate of recidivism in this community, and bring stability to the families we help.”
NYC Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Linda Gibbs, who co-chaired United Way’s Planning Committee on Affordable Housing and Homelessness Prevention and was instrumental in guiding United Way to co-develop the program with the Court, stated, “Helping families avoid the trauma of homelessness is central to our five-year campaign to end chronic homelessness. Homelessness prevention, as exemplified by the Housing Help Program, must by definition take place at the community level where needs can be identified and addressed. I want to thank the New York City Civil Court and United Way of New York City for spearheading this critical work.”
The Housing Help Program is being piloted in the Housing Part of the Bronx Civil Court, located at 1118 Grand Concourse (at 166th St), and will initially target eviction cases in the South Bronx zip code 10451 area, which has a high incidence of homelessness in relation to the rest of New York City (5,000 in this area alone in 2004, as compared to 23,000-the total number of evictions filed citywide). Hon. Jaya Madhaven will exclusively preside over all eviction cases in the specialized court part, which began taking its first cases mid January 2005.