On Oct. 10th, alongside local and state officials and supporters, DePaul celebrated the opening of Knitting Mill Apartments – a beautiful new 48-unit supportive/affordable residence on the grounds of a former knitting mill. Thirty-four apartments are for formerly homeless, disabled individuals – including 12 designed for people with a mental health diagnosis, 10 apartments for frail and physically disabled seniors, and two for those with hearing and visual impairments. The remaining apartments are set-aside for low-income individuals and families from the area.
On October 23rd, the supportive housing community came out for a fabulous party, dedicated to looking back at our proudest moments over the year and honoring our greatest advocates.
Over 600 people filled the grand Capitale in New York City to reconnect and meet new colleagues in a festive environment. Attendees saw themselves on the big screen with a slideshow displaying a year’s worth of events, groundbreakings, ribbon-cuttings, and more. The evening was also for honoring key individuals with awards that recognized their enormous role in protecting vulnerable New Yorkers through supportive housing.
Persistence, shared values, and celebration of each other’s strengths – this is how close relationships are often described. This year, the Network honors two organizations who have cultivated these very things to build homes, earning them the inaugural Partnership of the Year Award.
“It was like love at first sight,” said Donna Colonna, CEO of Services for the UnderServed (S:US).
The organizations officially “met” in 2000, when Samantha Magistro, Managing Director of Bronx Pro Group, attended an S:US housewarming. Samantha was struck by S:US incredible work. After tours of each other’s properties, “it was clear that we had the right ingredients for a good partnership.” Their first joint venture (JV) was also Bronx Pro Group’s first: 1070 Washington Avenue.
“They were steeped in and respected by the community,” was one of Donna’s earliest observations about Bronx Pro Group. The two partners bonded over a shared, deep commitment to the Bronx community, which paved the way for subsequent JV projects at 3361 3rd Avenue and 2264 Morris Avenue.
Learning together through both success and challenge has been a pillar of the partnership. “It’s not like everything has been a bed of roses,” said Samantha about the inevitable obstacles in building supportive housing, “but we figure it out together.” The relationship sits on a foundation of trust, built on understanding of each other’s unique priorities and perspectives. Now, they are at the “next level” of their relationship, with 50-50 split ownership of all projects moving forward.
They are a “posterchild for interagency cooperation,” said Jane Silverman, Executive Director at Chase, about the partners at their most recent housewarming on Morris Avenue in the Bronx this past spring.
When S:US wanted to redevelop their huge Starhill property as a mixed-use, mixed-income project they put out an RFP, and Bronx Pro’s proposal won! Donna was unsurprised: “When you find the right partner, the projects are better, both short term and long term. You can do more together, have more of an impact, and expand your capacity.” Starhill will be the partners’ seventh joint venture, with more than 500 supportive housing units.
“You can have a partnership where you’re just building buildings, and that’s great,” said Donna. “But we could tell from the start that this was going to be more than that.”
Bronx Pro Group and S:US have inspired us with a partnership as strong as the bedrock beneath the Bronx. We are thrilled to honor them with the Partnership of the Year Award.
Doniqua Earl carries a light within her that brightens every room she enters – a light she has cultivated through decades of hardship. After a grim life in foster care, Doniqua began a new chapter at The Bridge’s Herkimer Residence in November 2016. Initially wary of trusting anyone, she slowly began to believe that staff would stick by her and empower her with whatever she needed to become her best self. Soon, her wit, wisdom, hope, and generosity toward others were in full force, benefiting everyone around her.
“My dream is to shine, to be a survivor, and to be there for other people any way I can,” Doniqua said, describing her ambitions to pay it forward because of how much she has thrived at the Herkimer.
Even when she was withdrawn and guarded, “you could tell there was a fire behind her eyes,” said Danielle DeLaurenzo, Area Director at the Bridge. Doniqua’s history in foster care began when she was four years old and involved repeated uprooting between unstable and abusive living situations. She experienced years of physical abuse, neglect, and self-harm. But Doniqua has turned these very experiences into assets of empathy and advocacy in her new ambitions to care for others. “She has not only been an example to other residents, she has also taught staff through her experiences how to support clients on a more individual level,” Danielle said.
“She’s done everything possible to demonstrate how resilient she is,” said Liana Roman, Young Adult Case Manager at the Herkimer.
While doing the hard, brave work of diving into her own past to understand her trauma, Doniqua has taken advantage of every opportunity available to her. She pursued and completed training to become a Certified Nursing Assistant, recently passing her licensing exam; she is now enrolling in an EKG certificate program to bolster her medical ambitions. She also taught herself how to ride a bike, is getting a driver’s license, and is planning for college. She is an active volunteer in nursing homes through New York Cares, saying, “Just being there for someone who has no one else, no family – I can relate to that. There’s always something I can talk about.”
Doniqua has become a model and an advocate for her peers at home, personifying transformation and turning her life experiences into points of connection with others around her. In light of her bravery, hope, and magnanimous spirit, we are honored to name Doniqua a 2019 Tenant of the Year.
“Mayor of the building” is how staff and residents now know Daniel Broome, an individual of contagious laughter and triumphant spirit, against all odds.
Daniel’s story “exemplifies victory over the many traumatic events people face in the severely underserved community,” said Celso Castillo, Jr., Daniel’s Wellness Coach through Services for the UnderServed (S:US), a partner with Breaking Ground running 1191 Boston Road where Daniel lives. Once surrounded by a family, his life was slowly ravaged by a long struggle with drug addiction, which at one climactic moment contributed to his falling off a roof six floors up. The impact shattered the bones in both his legs, leading to a double amputation and a 19-month hospital stay. Upon his release, Daniel spent over five years on the streets without a stable home, sleeping in hallways and door frames, suffering third-degree burns, and continuing to battle addiction.
But among the most significant moments in Daniel’s life is when, after years of hiding from a local Breaking Ground street outreach team, that he realized “they were offering me a second chance.” With their assistance, Daniel moved off the street and into 1191 Boston Road in 2016.
His transition into a full life at the residence was “a beautiful transformation,” according to Dimas Tollinchi-Castor, Assistant Program Director of the residence through S:US. Daniel admitted to being surprised that “they didn’t kick me out, when a lot of other people would have.” Before long, with the support of staff, “like a butterfly” Daniel became a public and welcome figure around the hallways and common spaces, cracking wheelchair-related jokes like, “I’m a stand-up guy!” and “OW! My feet!” to passersby before smiling broadly at them.
Daniel has been repeatedly recognized by his community for his leadership and dedication both to others and to self-improvement. He plays an instrumental role in the residence in the way he encourages others in their personal goals. Daniel is actively involved in a Writer’s Club – even winning the National Library of Poetry’s Critics Choice Award. “He’s like a brother,” said Martin Weeks, a close friend, neighbor, and member of the club, “and seeing him every day is something I look forward to.”
“I’ve been through so much, and to think about where I am today… I go to bed with a smile on my face,” Daniel said. “If I can do it, anybody can do it.”
For his tenacity and humor in the face of hardship, Daniel is more than deserving of the title of 2019 Tenant of the Year.
Linda Glassman is the epitome of an unsung hero: a visionary, often behind the scenes, in the fight to end homelessness for New York’s most vulnerable for over 40 years.
For the last 11 years, Linda has led the field through her role at the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA). She is currently Deputy Commissioner for Housing, Refugee Services, and Disability Determinations, overseeing the hugely important Homeless Housing and Assistance Program (HHAP), which has helped fund over 16,000 units of supportive housing.
Some of the state’s most critical supportive housing programs have Linda’s tenacity and strategic mind to thank for survival, including the NYS Supportive Housing Program (NYSSHP), for which she played a key role securing funding over the last several years. In 2011, she and her staff masterminded the restructuring of OTDA’s supportive housing service programs, merging the former Supportive Housing for Families and Young Adults program with the former SRO program.
“All of us at OTDA are excited that Linda is receiving this honor and grateful to her for her countless amazing accomplishments over the years of service to New York State,” said NYS OTDA Commissioner Mike Hein. “She is a thoughtful, compassionate, and tireless leader, fully committed to the idea that supportive housing is fundamental to helping people experiencing homelessness get on a path to stability and independence.”
Before entering government work, Linda was a trailblazer in the nonprofit world, taking on the cause of some of the most vulnerable populations across the state. She served as Executive Director of the AIDS Council of Northeastern New York and, after that, as the first Executive Director of the Albany-based CARES, Inc. for 15 years.
“Linda is a driving force for helping persons experiencing homelessness and unstable housing across New York State,” said Perry Junjulas, Executive Director of the Albany Damien Center. “Her support of grassroots organizations such as ours since the start of the epidemic continues to change lives to this very day.”
Linda played a key role in the statewide implementation of Continuum of Care programs beginning in 1994. She was an indispensable part of building New York’s first-ever Interagency Council on Homelessness and in 2008 was entrusted with creating her agency’s Center for Specialized Services, which at the time included its entire homeless housing and prevention portfolio.
For a career of championing the most difficult causes and seeing them through to success, the Network is proud to name Linda Glassman the Tim O’Hanlon Unsung Hero of the Year.