Finding permanent housing has been challenging for Naquana, 30, and her family, but she has a team supporting her. A housing specialist is helping her navigate the dizzying bureaucratic obstacles that face homeless families attempting to find an affordable apartment. She and her family, which includes her partner and two children aged 3 and 9, also receive mental health services and access to a full range of vocational and recreational programs. With a dedicated staff and a safe and clean place for her family to sleep every night, Naquana and her family can transition into permanent housing with dignity, a peace of mind, community support and hope for the future.
These services and many more are provided at Echo Family Residence, a temporary housing residence for homeless families, which opened in the Bronx in November, 2020 and is operated by the nonprofit Services for the UnderServed (S:US). The project was made possible in part by an $868,000 loan from FJC’s Agency Loan Fund, which bridged public sector commitments from the New York City Department of Homeless Services.
In recent years homelessness has reached the highest levels since the Great Depression. Although homeless individuals on the street are surely the most visible manifestation of the city’s homelessness crisis, in fact 62% of New York City’s homeless are families with children. In 2020, 122,926 people slept in the New York City municipal shelter system. 39,300 of these homeless New Yorkers were children. Since New York is the only city in the U.S. that is legally required to provide shelter to homeless families and single adults, the City works with providers like S:US to operate “Tier II shelters,” which provide temporary housing and social services to homeless families until viable housing alternatives become available.
Families enter the shelter system for a variety of reasons, but New York City’s chronic lack of affordable housing is a primary driver. It is estimated that there are only 35 affordable apartments available per 100 extremely low-income renters in New York. Although a moratorium on evictions is currently in place statewide due to the Covid-19 pandemic, numerous other factors drive low-income families into homelessness, including domestic violence and hazardous housing conditions. In Naquana’s case, her family fled her apartment due to an incident of neighborhood violence that resulted in her partner being hospitalized.
For families like Naquana’s, S:US’s Echo Family Residence offers a ray of hope in the face of crisis: newly constructed individual apartments with their own kitchens and bathrooms, and amenities that one might find in permanent housing, including 24/7 security, on-site laundry, a communal back yard and indoor recreational space. The staff at S:US provide services that are designed to support homeless families including individual and group counseling, case management and referrals, housing placement and employment assistance, and vocational training.
Naquana greatly values the support she is receiving from Echo Family Residence’s housing specialist and notes the supportive culture of the S:US staff. “Everybody here is on the same page,” she says.