An important piece by award-winning writer Jennifer Egan was published in the Sept. 18 edition of The New Yorker, entitled “A Journey from Homelessness to a Room of One’s Own.”
Ms. Egan spent a year reporting for this article, following the experience of several tenants at Breaking Ground’s 90 Sands, a 491-unit affordable and supportive housing apartment building that opened in 2022 in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood.
The article accurately captures both the challenges and triumphs experienced by vulnerable New Yorkers who fight to overcome a wide variety of obstacles – from abuse, mental illness, and addiction to the byzantine and often confusing bureaucracy of government – to obtain the combination of permanent subsidized housing and on-site services proven to be the best tool available to combat chronic homelessness.
As Ms. Egan herself noted:
“Permanent supportive housing like 90 Sands is the most effective solution for those in the chronically homeless category: generally, people with disabilities—usually mental illness or substance-use disorders, often both—who need long-term rent subsidies and support services to keep them stably housed. A recent study showed that about ninety per cent of homeless people who enter supportive housing remain housed after two years.”
“…According to an estimate provided by the Supportive Housing Network of New York, there are now thirty-seven thousand units of supportive housing in New York City, about ninety per cent of which are for single adults, and about thirty-eight hundred more are under construction. Still, the quantity is woefully inadequate to the current need. (A Department of Social Services spokesperson said that the city is working to “aggressively expand” its supportive-housing capacity.).”
Ms. Egan also portrays the struggles of the dedicated members of the supportive housing workforce, who are struggling to help current and would-be tenants in the face of insufficient funding, rapidly rising demand, and difficulties caused by the mental health and opioid crises.
This article could have turned out very differently had it not been for the investment, honesty, and tenacity of many individuals – most notably the staff of Breaking Ground and The Center for Urban Community Services (CUCS), which provides supportive programming at 90 Sands. They took a significant leap of faith by allowing Ms. Egan largely unfettered access to the building, its staff, and its tenants.
The Network’s Chief Operating Officer Cynthia Stuart also remained in close contact with Ms. Egan, providing her with data and background on the history of the supportive housing movement that informed this piece and helped make the outcome fair and well-rounded.
In closing her article, Ms. Egan makes the case that supportive housing is in desperate need of additional funds in the face of a homelessness crisis that is stretching the system to the point of near collapse.
“The forces underlying modern homelessness are many and complex, but they boil down to a withdrawal of the federal government’s commitment to providing either affordable housing or a functional safety net for its vulnerable citizens…Despite measurable progress since the early two-thousands, the number of Americans who fall into homelessness each year exceeds the number who exit from it. Subsidized housing is the answer, nearly everyone seems to agree, though what form it should take is debated.”
“There is hardly a public-sector system out there that is not impacted by homelessness.” In a landmark study from 2002, sociologist Dennis Culhane calculated the cost of chronic street homelessness for a single mentally ill person to be forty thousand dollars a year—about seventy thousand dollars in today’s money. That’s a lot of money to spend on a horrific status quo.”
Ms. Egan doubled down on this point of view during an interview with New Yorker editor and staff writer, David Remnick, which aired on September 15th on WNYC’s “The New Yorker Radio Hour.” She made a well-informed and passionate case for the supportive housing model, and her appearance on the show is well worth a listen.
We strongly recommend finding the time to read Ms. Egan’s impactful and heartbreaking article, which we are certain will resonate with all of you. The Network will be using this piece in our ongoing advocacy at the city and state levels as we continue to make the case for supportive housing and fight for the resources this community so desperately needs and deserves.