Mayor Bill de Blasio announced five new multi-agency anti-poverty initiatives, including a new program that builds on the work of Gateway Housing’s Improving School Attendance for Homeless Children (ISAHC) pilot.

Led by the Mayor’s Office of Economic Opportunity, the new city program will consolidate and streamline access to attendance data and other information to help improve school attendance for homeless children living in 25 shelters. Designed by the Department of Education (DOE) Office of Community Schools and New Visions for Public Schools, the innovative database system will allow shelter staff to use up-to-the-minute data to better coordinate efforts to improve school transportation and identify homeless children who are having trouble going to school on a regular basis.

In designing DOE’s new database, New Visions spent time with Gateway’s ISAHC teams to better understand the training needs of shelter and DOE staff, and to see how the ISAHC program uses data and interagency coordination to improve school attendance.

Designed by Dr. Judith Samuels, the ISAHC model employs a team approach that brings together DOE and shelter provider staff, including new social workers funded by the ThriveNYC initiative. The ISAHC team meets together weekly, to review current data, check progress and employ evidence-based practices to work with families to address social and logistical barriers to school attendance.

After one school year of operation, ISAHC is already achieving results. Funded by the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, Robin Hood Foundation and the New York Community Trust, the ISAHC program is now operating in five shelters operated by BronxWorks, Win and HELP USA. All five shelters will be included in the new city initiative. The pilot is being tracked and tested by Drs. Jay Bainbridge and Dan Treglia, and the City of New York’s Center for Innovation through Data Intelligence (CIDI).

“Gateway’s ISAHC program shows how better coordination between schools and shelters through shared data can help us improve homeless children’s school attendance.  We’re building on what we’ve learned with our colleagues at ISAHC, DHS and our participating schools,” said Mike Hickey, the Executive Director of Students in Temporary Housing at the Department of Education.

“We’re excited by the opportunity afforded by the Mayor’s Office of Economic Opportunity to add to what we have learned through ISAHC,” said Doreen Thomann-Howe, Interim Deputy Commissioner for Family Services at DHS, “we’re hoping to see a positive impact on school attendance.”

Gateway Housing is excited to see the work of the ISAHC initiative expanded and complemented by the new city initiative. We look forward to further collaboration with DHS and DOE in the essential work of getting homeless kids to school.

The West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing (WSFSSH) is well on its way to building the first residence of the Gateway Housing Development Initiative, the transformation of the 30-year-old Valley Lodge shelter into “WSFSSH at West 108,” a model mixed-use development that integrates transitional shelter, permanent affordable housing and community amenities on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Gateway Housing has been working with WSFSSH and other leading New York City nonprofit service providers to redevelop existing shelter sites into residential buildings containing both transitional and permanent housing units, as well as amenities that strengthen the surrounding community.

One of New York City’s most experienced nonprofit affordable and supportive housing developers, WSFSSH closed on financing in December 2018 to redevelop Valley Lodge, a 92-bed shelter it operates for homeless seniors on West 108th Street, between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues. The shelter building has been demolished (along with two adjacent City-owned parking garages) to make room for a new building that will have 110 shelter beds, 198 affordable permanent housing units (including 119 supportive housing apartments), and community facilities that include a healthcare center, office space for a local nonprofit, and new comfort stations for the adjacent playground.

The residents of the original shelter were moved to a temporary location at West 85th Street, in order to preserve valuable shelter capacity for older adults during construction. When construction of the new residence is completed, shelter residents will return to West 108th Street, and the West 85th Street location will be rehabilitated into permanent supportive housing.

The new building was designed by Dattner Architects, and the General Contractor is Procida Construction Corp.  Capital financing for the shelter was provided through a first mortgage loan from Chase secured by the Department of Homeless Services contract; capital financing for the permanent housing was provided by the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development Supportive Housing Loan Program, HDC Bond, HDC ELLA Loan, NYS OTDA/HHAP funding, plus federal low-income housing tax credits syndicated through the National Equity Fund (NEF) and secured by Chase. The project is currently finishing up demolition, and construction will begin in May 2019. The new Valley Lodge is expected to be open at the end of 2020, and the full building will be operational by early 2021. Below is a rendering of what the new residence will look like when completed.

“As a long-term partner in the movement to reconsider shelter design and homeless housing in NYC, WSFSSH was excited to forge an alliance with Gateway Housing in 2015, as the redevelopment of Valley Lodge Shelter was getting underway,” said Paul Freitag, Executive Director of West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing. “Many financing, design and programming options were examined and evaluated with Gateway.  We are thrilled that the core concepts and the mission to create an inclusive home, expand the historic characterization of shelter, strengthen resident links to stable housing and engage the local community will be dynamic elements of WSFSSH at West 108.”

Gateway Housing continues to expand its activities in 2019. We continue to work with our nonprofit and government partners to develop and redevelop high quality nonprofit-owned and operated shelters. And we remain committed to piloting and evaluating innovative new transitional programs, like our Improving School Attendance for Homeless Children (ISAHC) initiative. And this year, we will publish reports and best practices policy briefs on what’s working in New York City’s shelters.

Gateway’s mission is to improve the city’s shelter system by supporting and replicating high-quality shelters. But there is currently very little research about which programs and services in transitional housing are most effective.

We’re going to change that, by documenting what makes high-quality shelter programs effective, and showing how a good transitional program can impact the people it serves.

The fact is, that for the foreseeable future, a significant number of people will have housing emergencies in New York City and other high-cost cities.They will need shelter and, unfortunately, they will likely stay a long time – right now, the average length of stay in NYC shelter is 400 days for single adults, 438 days for families with children and a whopping 561 days for adult families (families with no minor children). And there is no silver bullet for high cost markets like New York City’s: development of new housing is slow; rental vouchers chase too few apartments; and rapid rehousing strategies are extremely difficult to scale.

So, even as we continue to advocate for these and other housing-based solutions to homelessness, we will also research what helps people most when they become homeless, what keeps people stay stably housed after shelter, and what helps improve other outcomes, both in shelter and after shelter. We’ll use data to see which programs are showing results, and we’ll document promising existing programs.

We hope you’ll find this information helpful, and will join us in the conversation about the most effective ways to help New Yorkers experiencing homelessness.