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True Colors- New York’s first supportive housing for LGBTQ homeless youth


True Colors Residence (TCR), a project of West End Residences, was the first permanent supportive housing for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ) youth with a history of homelessness. This profoundly underserved population is estimated to make up nearly 40% of homeless youth in New York City. Opening in September 2011 in Harlem, it offers 30 units of supportive housing for formerly homeless LGBTQ New Yorkers aged 18-24.

True Colors was developed in partnership with Grammy-award winning artist Cyndi Lauper and her manager, longtime West End Residences volunteer Lisa Barbaris. It arose from a simple question: What can nonprofits do to help LGBTQ homeless youth in New York City? Lauper discussed the issue with her manager Lisa Barbaris and then Executive Director of West End Residences, Colleen Jackson. The three arrived at a bold, untried solution: supportive housing. 

"I'm lost for words; I'm so happy right now," said Priscilla Rumnit, one of the building’s tenants. "I’m just so excited for this place. Here, I know that I'm safe.”


True Colors in Harlem was just the beginning of the legacy of West End Residences to provide housing to the LGBTQ homeless youth. A second True Colors Bronx opened doors in 2015 and West End Residences has plans to open up a True Colors in all five boroughs of New York City. 





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The Network Goes Statewide


In 2002, The Network put down roots in Albany to become more effective in its statewide advocacy efforts and to grow the supportive housing movement beyond New York City. Watch the video above to hear from our two staff members about the importance of The Network going statewide!

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The Culhane Study


In 2001, in collaboration with the Corporation for Supportive Housing, a research team from the University of Pennsylvania published the first-ever study to measure the impacts of supportive housing. It was the most comprehensive study to date on the effects of homelessness and service-enriched housing on mentally ill individuals’ use of publicly funded services. 

Titled "Public Service Reductions Associated with Placement of Homeless Persons with Severe Mental Illness in Supportive Housing," It tracks the public service use of 4,679 homeless, mentally ill New York City residents from 1989 to 1997. The “Culhane Report,” as it’s often referred to, quantifies costs of both homelessness and supportive housing. It does this by comparing how frequently homeless people and supportive housing tenants use services such as psychiatric inpatient care and emergency rooms. 

Dennis Culhane and his coauthors calculate that a homeless, mentally ill person on the streets of New York City costs taxpayers $40,451 a year -- in 1999 dollars. Supportive housing reduces these annual costs by a net $16,282 per housing unit. This study was written by Dennis P. Culhane, Stephen Metraux and Trevor Hadley. 

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Nine Key Achievements of the NY/NY III Agreement


In November 2005, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki signed NY/NY III, committing to create 9,000 units of supportive housing for a variety of disabled homeless people in New York City over ten years. The Agreement marked the largest commitment to creating housing for homeless people in the nation's history.

1) The size, scope and scale of the agreement was unprecedented

The NY/NY III Supportive Housing Agreement was larger and more comprehensive than its predecessors, with a ten-year goal of creating 9,000 units of supportive housing : 6,250 units of new supportive housing and subsidize 2,750 scattered-site supported housing units in existing buildings.

2) Facilitated unprecedented City/State interagency coordination

With ten City and State government agencies signing NY/NY III and an additional three unofficial but critical agencies participating, the Agreement brought about unparalleled interagency collaboration all focused on the goal of reducing chronic homelessness.

3) First long-term agreement to provide service and operating funding for at-risk young adults, families and those struggling with chronic substance abuse.

The first two NY/NY agreements provided housing and services solely for individuals with mental illness. This third agreement expanded the housing and services to tenant populations with a variety of special needs. New target populations include families with serious and persistent mental illness (SPMI) and medical disabilities, youth aging out of foster care or leaving psychiatric facilities, and individuals with substance abuse, both active and in recovery.

4) Detailed plan set clear annual unit goals and funding requirements

NY/NY III’s prescriptive nature – laying out how many and what type of units (scattered site or congregate) were to be created for each population – helped ensure that the participating agencies would meet the Agreement’s timeline and funding needs.


5) Created “name recognition” boosting investor confidence

The linking of dependable rental subsidies and service funding to support the capital investment created a name recognition with NY/NY III that allayed investors’ concerns about housing extremely low-income, disabled tenants.

6) Expanded the nonprofit developer pool by 60%

NY/NY III commitment jumpstarted and increased the volume of supportive housing development. In turn, the agreement’s scope increased the supportive housing community’s development capacity: thirty new nonprofits began to build supportive housing in the city – a 60% increase in the number that had been developing before.

7) Increased use of Joint Ventures

Prior to NY/NY III, only one for-profit affordable housing developer collaborated with nonprofits to develop supportive housing. The size and scope of NY/NY III however helped spawn eighteen joint ventures.

8) Sharp decrease among street homeless

Focus on chronic homelessness led to an early decrease among street homeless of 49%


9) Embedded evaluation component

NY/NY III called for and funded an ongoing multi-tiered evaluation of the commitment. The first interim report published by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene found that the early years of implementation led to a cost savings across systems of $10,100 per person.

Read the Network's Taking Stock of NY/NY III for more information.

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Residents of Supportive Housing


Supportive Housing provides our most vulnerable neighbors a life of dignity and support. The St. Francis Residences were founded in the early 1980’s by the Fathers John who found a way to house and provide care to homeless New Yorkers who were suffering from mental illnesses.

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Supportive Housing- the innovative model for ending chronic homelessness


Supportive housing had a number of mothers and fathers, all of whom were trying to help the most vulnerable New Yorkers—homeless people, people living with mental illness, the elderly, and those living the most marginalized lives—and who were all, simultaneously, coming to the same conclusion: to make a difference in the lives of the people they cared about, they could no longer just provide services. Somehow they would also need to figure out how to provide them with housing AND services.

It is hard to imagine now that there was no such thing as widespread homelessness in New York City before the late 70s. Sure, there were homeless people, but nothing like what happened when massive amounts of ‘housing of last resort’ including rundown Single Room Occupancy housing and dilapidated hotels were knocked down at an alarming rate to make room for market rate housing. Since the 60s, deinstitutionalization had meant that tens of thousands of people who had only lived in psychiatric institutions joined the ranks of other very vulnerable individuals who were living in whatever housing they could afford. As this housing disappeared, people with the least resources found themselves with nowhere to go: suddenly there were people sleeping on the streets everywhere and elderly women pushing grocery carts with their worldly goods inside.

Ellen Baxter (second row, third from left)

Advocates across the City began fighting for the most basic forms of housing, finally winning a seminal victory in the courts with the Callahan decree in 1981 guaranteeing homeless New Yorkers a right to shelter. Meanwhile, Ellen Baxter and Kim Hopper went into the streets to interview homeless people sleeping in public places and found that  many homeless New Yorkers needed more than shelter to thrive: they also needed easy access to an array of social services.

This was the conclusion that many others were coming to experientially on their own. Laura Jervis was seeing (and abhorring the term) “bag ladies” all over the Upper West Side. Elizabeth Stetcher Trebony was seeing the same thing for elderly people in Midtown. Fathers John McVean and John Felice were ministering to poor people living in SROs in Chelsea, only to find that a huge number of them had come from living in psychiatric institutions. And Stephan Russo was seeing poor tenants on the Upper West Side lose their housing to gentrification. All of these individuals were organically moving toward the same solution to all these problems – own the housing and provide necessary services.

Elizabeth Stetcher Trebony (left)

Ms. Trebony, who went on to create Project FIND was the first to begin the process of buying and rehabbing an old SRO and turning it into supportive housing although completing the task of  turning the old Woodstock Hotel into supportive housing ended up taking nearly two decades.  So the first pioneers to actually buy a building, rehab it and offer services to the most vulnerable were Father John McVean and Father John Felice of St. Francis Friends of the Poor.

Father John Felice (center) and Father John McVean (far right)

The Fathers John ran the Thursday bread line at their church on 31st Street where they met many residents from the Aberdeen, an SRO in terrible disrepair one block away. As Father McVean did outreach to seniors at the Aberdeen, he discovered that there were also 150 deinstitutionalized people from psychiatric institutions, causing him to cobble together a group of volunteers to provide onsite psychiatric and social work services to residents. All went well with “The Aberdeen Project” until the owners decided they wanted to convert it into a tourist hotel.

With the imminent eviction of the vulnerable people with whom they had been working so closely, the Fathers John sat down one evening, each with a glass of scotch, put up their feet, and said ‘let’s buy our own hotel’ having, of course, no idea what that entailed.

Father John McVean (left) and Father John Felice (right)

They soon found out. With the help of friends and supporters, they found a building on East 24th Street and raised enough money to buy it. Their Provincial administration then provided the money needed for renovations, HRA, OMH and psychiatric staff from Bellevue provided on site services. So it was that on November 24th, 1980, the first St. Francis Residence opened and the first supportive housing was born.

Ms. Trebony, in the meantime, started Project FIND as part of a national demonstration project on elderly advocacy and was an early vocal opponent of the destruction of West Side SROs. In 1975, the agency obtained a management and operating lease on the Woodstock Hotel, a former luxury hotel located in the heart of Times Square that had fallen into deplorable condition with only 80 of its 320 rooms habitable. Through the blood, sweat, and tears of hundreds of federally funded low-income city workers in the CETA Maintenance program, Project FIND rehabilitated the building from a nearly abandoned eyesore into permanent housing for over 200 seniors. A Senior Center on the second floor of the hotel was added in 1977 which included a social service case management component. Project FIND purchased the building in 1979 but the struggle to make it fully habitable extended until 1995.

Ellen Baxter (center, front)

Meanwhile, Ellen Baxter was meeting with and following in the footsteps of the Fathers John. She formed a new nonprofit called the Committee for The Heights Inwood Homeless (CHIH)
(now called Broadway Community Services) designed to provide a secular model that  garnered investment from every level of government.

In the early 80s, CHIH transformed an apartment building on West 178th Street into 55 units of supportive housing finally opening in 1986. While the St. Francis residences had relied on simple financing packages, renovation of this building, known as “The Heights,” required an extremely complex combination of funding sources, including a low interest HPD Participation Loan from the city (for capital and acquisition costs), a state Special Needs Housing Act grant, private bank loans and federal tax credits.

Ellen Baxter (center) and Tony Hannigan (third from right)

Operating costs for The Heights were subsidized through a new federal subsidy which provided rental support for low-income tenants. But the Heights introduced another innovation: the notion of partnering with another non-profit to provide onsite services. Those were to come from a partnership with Columbia University Community Services (now called the Center for Urban Community Services, or CUCS).

Tony Hannigan (left)

CUCS President & CEO Tony Hannigan’s story began a few years out of graduate school in 1981 when, he was tasked with a field initiative of locating vulnerable homeless single people staying in SROs – and remembers that 40% of SRO housing stock had been lost to gentrification at that time. As Ellen was working on transforming the Heights, CUCS applied to the Department of Mental Health to provide services to the tenants.

Stephan Russo (left)

Another motivating force behind the birth of supportive housing was coming from communities’ desire to preserve and revitalize what they perceived as rapidly disappearing affordable housing. Thus, in 1981, when the West 87th Street Block Association heard that a deteriorating SRO, Capitol Hall, might be replaced with luxury housing, they approached Goddard Riverside Community Center and The Settlement Housing Fund to help preserve it. Goddard purchased the property in 1983 and started rehabbing it the following year into 202 supportive housing units.

Laura Jervis

Meanwhile, also on the Upper West Side, Laura Jervis was doing outreach to elderly people living in SROs there, having recently graduated from seminary. The now-retired West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing (WSFSSH) Executive Director witnessed first-hand the fear people had to leave their rooms and the impact of isolation on elderly communities. She formed a coalition of community groups and religious institutions from the West Side to help these individuals, and WSFSSH was born. Their first building was The Marseilles, which Laura insisted on staffing with a social worker. “It’s hard to imagine today, but having social services on-site in senior housing was a radical idea in 1980!”

Laura Jervis (left)

Laura Jervis maintains that seniors and those who have experienced the trauma of homelessness need more than just housing, her advocacy message from the start. “Over the years, in all of our buildings, it is the sense of community that is developed by residents and staff that has been the key to the success of our mission.”

John Tynan (left)

Among the most ambitious and prolific early adopters of supportive housing in the early 80s was Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens who melded their mission of serving the most vulnerable and combined it with the Church’s significant real estate portfolio by  converting three vacant schools and a convent into 225 units of supportive housing called Caring Communities. The organization put together twelve separate funding sources to finance the project, including an HPD Participation Loan, federal Section 8 Moderate Rehabilitation rental support and state Homeless Housing Assistance Program funding.

Another significant contribution from Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens was as a crucible for a generation of powerful advocates: Executive Director John Tynan had the great good fortune to have Bill Traylor, Connie Tempel and Laura Mascuch all working for him in housing development or management.

Connie Tempel (second from right)

As these buildings were opening, however, the question of who could live in them came to the forefront. Thus, in the mid-80s, Stephan Russo of Goddard Riverside Community Center called together other early pioneers to ensure that homeless neighbors and community members were going to continue to be served in this new model of housing, leading to the now-normal 60/40 mix of individuals referred from the shelters and low income individuals from the community. The coalition became the SRO Providers Group, which then met regularly to share promising strategies and to lobby city and state government in a single, unified voice. The SRO Providers Group evolved into the Supportive Housing Network of New York.

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Campaign 4 NY/NY Housing


The Supportive Housing Network helped lead the successful Campaign 4 NY/NY Housing -- a three-year education, media, and advocacy effort pushing for a new city-state supportive housing agreement that would create 35,000 new units and which led to our winning separate commitments from New York City (15,000 units over fifteen years under the new NYC 15/15 program) and New York State (20,000 units over fifteen years under the new Empire State Supportive Housing Initiative [ESSHI]) that, in combination, match this ambitious goal. This combined commitment is nearly four times the number of units created under NY/NY III, which had been the largest such pact in the country’s history.

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Reclaiming SROs, Hotels & Historic Sites


To develop new residences, supportive housing providers often rehabilitate abandoned buildings, old SROs and historic sites. Born partly out of economic necessity, it has led to safer, revitalized and more attractive communities across the state of New York. In the video above, you'll find several real-life examples of buildings, streets and neighborhoods turned around because of supportive housing development.

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Mc-Kinney Vento- The First Federal Legislative Response to Homelessness


The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act was the first and to this day remains the only major federal legislation to be passed in response to widespread homelessness in the 1980’s. Before this time, homelessness was considered a local problem with no targeted response from the federal government. Initially called the Homeless Persons' Survival Act, it included emergency relief provisions for shelter, food, mobile health care, and transitional housing for those in need and passed with a large bipartisan majority in both the house and congress.

After the death of its chief Republican sponsor, Representative Stewart B. McKinney of Connecticut, the act was renamed the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act. On October 30, 2000 President Clinton renamed the legislation the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act after the death of Representative Bruce Vento, a leading supporter of the act since its original passage in 1987. Bipartisan support has always been a hallmark of this program, which the Congressional Budget Office has rated as HUD’s most effective program.

Who was Stewart Brett McKinney?
McKinney was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1970. He represented his home state of Connecticut in Congress for nine terms. Although he was the wealthiest congressmen during his terms in office, McKinney was regarded by his peers as a fighter for the causes of the forgotten. An independent-minded, liberal Republican, McKinney worked tirelessly for urban aid and social welfare programs. McKinney was most outspoken of the plight of the homeless – especially those with mental illness, left on the street. The Homeless Assistance Act was his signature legislation.

Who was Bruce F. Vento?
Elected to the Minnesota State Legislature in 1970, Vento served three consecutive terms. In 1977, he was elected by the Fourth District for the state of Minnesota to the U.S. House of Representatives. In June of 2000, Vento received special recognition from President Clinton for his years of work on behalf of America’s homeless population. Bruce F. Vento worked alongside Stewart B. McKinney and was co-author of the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, which created federal funding for support services, transitional housing, and emergency shelter grants for the nation’s homeless.

Why is McKinney -Vento important to supportive housing?
HUD’s McKinney-Vento provided a stable form of funding for building, operating and providing supportive services in supportive housing. Funding is distributed by formula to jurisdictions for the ESG program, and competitively for the Continuum of Care (CoC) program.

Funding History of McKinney -Vento
Congress authorized just over $1 billion in expenditures for McKinney Act programs for 1987 and 1988; however, a total $712 million was appropriated for those years. In the most recent HUD budget (FY18) $2.5 billion dollars were allocated for McKinney Vento program.

Almost 10% of this funding comes to the 24 CoCs in NYS annually.

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Supportive Housing for Youth


With a steady increase in youth homelessness, dedicating housing and funding specifically for youth at risk of homelessness was an important milestone in the history of supportive housing. Watch this slideshow for a glimpse into the many buildings (and scattered-site programs) that are providing housing to young adults across New York State. 

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