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Network Holds Largest Conference to Date


1,200 friends gather for a day of 30 workshops, a special announcement, a keynote address and much more

Left: Taz Tagore, cofounder of the Reciprocity Foundation. Middle: The crowd at the morning session of the 13th Annual New York State Supportive Housing Conference. Right: Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick pauses during his keynote address to take a photo of the audience. For more photos from the event, visit our Facebook page.

On June 6, some 1,200 of our friends and colleagues gathered for the 13th Annual New York State Supportive Housing Conference, the largest event in the Network's history. This full-day affair included a record 30 workshops, a showstopping keynote address, a major government announcement and a cocktail reception featuring numerous elected officials.

The conference began with the signature one-two punch of Network Board Chair Bill Traylor and Network Executive Director Ted Houghton. Before a crowd of supportive housing's finest, both men spoke of the sea changes that lie ahead for our community. Mr. Houghton reminded attendees of another game-changing era, 30 years ago, when supportive housing first emerged.

"Those weren't easy times," he said. "Blocks and blocks of our cities were nothing more than vacant lots. We had, for the first time in living memory, people with mental illness living on the streets. And what did we do? We created this model, supportive housing, that did more to improve the quality of life of people with mental illness and other barriers to independence than anything in the history of the world. Today, we find ourselves in another era of immense opportunity."

See video from the entire morning session here!

His speech gave way to remarks from NYS Office of Temporary Disability and Assistance (OTDA) Acting Commissioner Kristin M. Proud, who delivered a message from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Since making her conference debut last month, Ms. Proud has gone on to become Commissioner of OTDA.

Few could argue, however, that the highlight of the morning session came from anyone other than Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick. Mayor Myrick delivered an erudite, wide-ranging keynote address, which touched on race, his personal history of homelessness, being elected mayor at just 24 years old and the need for collective action to solve intractable social ills.

It was a speech that solidified his stature as a rising star in American politics.

"There is no such thing as a self-made man -- self-made men are made by each and every one of you," Mayor Myrick said to an auditorium full of supportive housing community members. "That's the true story. Once we can get our policymakers and leaders to understand that, they'll see that the person on drugs is not only their responsibility and their obligation, but it is their fault. There's no success but community success, and there's no failure but community failure."

This year, we made our breakout sessions shorter in order to offer attendees a record 30 workshops from which to choose. The first breakout session brought together several top-tier housing leaders for an expansive conversation on the next chapter in New York housing policy. NYC Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) Commissioner Mathew Wambua sat alongside NYS Homes & Community Renewal (HCR) Commissioner Darryl C. Towns, NYC Housing Development Corporation (HDC) President Marc Jahr and Bank of America Senior Vice President and Housing First! Co-Chair Todd Gomez to announce a new Request for Qualifications (RFQ) seeking developers to build new supportive housing in New York City. You can read the RFQ here.

Also in the morning session, NYC Administration for Children's Services (ACS) Commissioner Ronald Richter and NYC Department of Youth & Community Development (DYCD) Commissioner Jeanne Mullgrav joined a formerly homeless youth for a frank, robust dialogue on what services are needed to help at-risk youth.

The second session saw a standing-room-only debate on homelessness policy and New York City's next mayor. The workshop, which featured three seasoned advocates and the editor-in-chief of City Limits magazine as moderator, was a rapid-fire exchange of ideas and solutions.

The second session also featured a very special workshop on the Reciprocity Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps at-risk youth in New York City. The panel included the founders of Reciprocity and Isis King, a Reciprocity graduate, formerly homeless youth and former contestant on "America's Next Top Model."

The afternoon offered 14 more workshops and a cocktail reception.

Among the marquee workshops of the afternoon session was "From Sequestration to Salvation," an in-depth policy dialogue featuring Sheila Crowley of the National Low Income Housing Coalition and Barbara Sard of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Elsewhere, NYS Medicaid Director Jason Helgerson joined NYS Office of Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) Commissioner Arlene Gonzalez-Sanchez and NYS Office of Mental Health (OMH) Acting Commissioner Kristin Woodlock to discuss the past, present and future of Medicaid Redesign and supportive housing.

Our third workshop session also featured a vigorous discussion of the NY/NY III Supportive Housing Agreement. The dialogue among Jessica Katz of HPD, Moira Tashjian of OMH, Frank Lipton of the NYC Human Resources Administration, Tony Hannigan of the Center for Urban Community Services and the Network's own Nicole Branca offered both an assessment of the current City-State agreement and ideas for the next landmark supportive housing plan.

The day's final session included a blockbuster workshop on hoarding, which featured Dr. Randy Frost, one of the nation's leading experts on the subject.

Also on the bill was a free-form dialogue on the future of supportive housing with some of the model's founders: Ellen Baxter of Broadway Housing Communities, Steve Coe of Community Access and Laura Jervis of West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing.

As in years before, our signature annual event closed with a cocktail reception at the Marriott. We were lucky to have several elected officials join us this year: NYC Council Member Annabel Palma and NYS Senators Liz Krueger and Cecilia Tkaczyk.

We'd like to thank everyone in our community for making this conference the biggest in our history. It's a tremendous honor to host an event with such talented individuals. We hope you had as much fun as we did.

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