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The Lift Up- A Reflection on NYC FUSE

10.11.2018

This post is written by Ryan Moser, Vice President of Strategy and Impact at CSH. 

Kathleen Coughlin (far left) with her colleagues at the Fortune Society
Kathleen Coughlin (far right) with her colleagues at the Fortune Society
 

“Exciting ideas are not necessarily born of the laboratory or academic council. Sometimes they consume us while sitting in a hot bath or riding an elevator.” Albert Camus, Philosopher/Writer.

And so it was with Frequent Users Systems Engagement (FUSE). A conversation in an elevator between then Commissioners of the NYC Departments of Corrections (DOC), Martin Horn, and Homeless Services (DHS), Linda Gibbs, where they jokingly blamed each other for their respective challenges before pausing to reflect, “maybe we could work to solve our problems together?”  That gave birth to the NYC Discharge Planning Collaboration, the forerunner of FUSE.

FUSE was a simple idea: that supportive housing with specialized services could prevent homelessness and reduce recidivism for people leaving incarceration. Over three years, a pilot program which helped 100 people was designed and implemented by an extraordinary public-private partnership among CSH, DOC, DHS, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, NYC Housing Authority, and eight non-profit service and supportive housing providers: The Bridge, Brooklyn Community Housing and Services, Bowery Residence Committee, Breaking Ground, Community Access, Jericho Project, Palladia (now Services for the UnderServed), and Women’s Prison Association.

FUSE was the first model nationally using administrative data to screen people with criminal justice records into housing as opposed to screening them out. After countless hours of in-reach to jails and shelters, case conferencing, devising work-arounds to administrative hurdles, and no small amount of tears and laughter, FUSE proved it could make a difference. Not only were people identified through FUSE able to maintain their housing (at the same rates as other supportive housing initiatives), the program reduced homelessness and recidivism at levels indicating the program paid for itself. 

FUSE was expanded a few years later and evaluated by Columbia University. More recently it was the basis for the de Blasio Administration’s Justice Involved Supportive Housing initiatives. And CSH has worked to replicate and advance it nationally. FUSE has been implimented in over thirty jurisdictions, showing the potential of collaboration and dismantling the notion that some people are unhousable.

As I look back on the last thirteen years since FUSE started, I can think of no professional experience comparing to it, the partners at the table, the tenants who made the program their own, and the impact it’s had across the country. Being first of it’s kind made FUSE exceptionally challenging to launch.  When the project was at it’s most critical moments and felt like it was going off the rails, there was one distinct voice in the room that would keep everyone from giving up.

Kathleen Coughlin was a Deputy Commissioner at DOC who managed the project along with CSH and DHS. In a solid Staten Island accent and clear delivery, she would simply say that working in government meant everyone was constantly telling you things were impossible and couldn’t be done; and that our job was to reply, it doesn’t matter, we’re doing it anyway. Sadly, Kathy died this past August. 

The picture above is from a recognition dinner in 2008 celebrating the completion of the first FUSE initiative. Kathy is at the front table, surrounded by friends, colleagues, and people who were able to rebuild their lives through FUSE.

I’ll share a hope and I know those who worked on the first FUSE initiative would agree: that Kathy truly understood the imapct of her work, and how it would forever help change the national conversation on justice and housing.

Her dedication and vision lifted up every one of us, the FUSE initiative, and now thousands of formerly incarcerated people who have found a way home. 

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