Tackling Homelessness in Brownsville: A Community Solution

May 29, 2013 at 3:13 pm


Though several New York mayors have grappled with the issue of homelessness over the years, the most populous city in America is also home to one of the nation’s fastest growing homeless populations. Estimates show that New York City’s homeless population grew 19% last year, the largest increase in any US city between 2011 and 2012.

The Bloomberg administration attempted to reduce shelter populations with a nine-point strategy initiated  in 2004. Shelter numbers dipped but then began to rise steadily, with recent shelter census surveys reporting over 50,000 homeless people in municipal shelters as of March 2013.  Meanwhile, national strategies to curb homelessness have seen large decreases in chronic and Veteran homeless populations, according to a report by the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

“This is totally a solvable problem, but we clearly need new ways to think about it,” said Rosanne Haggerty, president of the non-profit, Community Solutions. Haggerty, a MacArthur Genius grantee and recipient of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Jane Jacobs Medal for New Ideas and Activism, is spearheading The Brownsville Partnership, a collaborative prevention and community development program in one of Brooklyn’s most underserved neighborhoods.

To Haggerty, the solution doesn’t stop at housing stability or halting evictions.

“It was actually helping to strengthen the neighborhood itself, building the civic infrastructure, making basic public services work better,” Haggerty said. “[H]elping families get what they needed at times that they were facing crises, before they became absolutely faced with, you know, the loss of their home or the breakdown of their family.”

To implement their approach, the Brownsville Partnership, a coalition of non-profit organizations and city partners, turned to the community with the highest concentration of public housing in the nation. “…[W]e looked at the data that showed where individuals and families in New York City were coming from who were becoming homeless, and overwhelmingly it’s the ten poorest neighborhoods in the city,” said Haggerty.

Since launching in 2008, the Partnership has worked to bring services and social stability to Brownsville, as well as investment in the public housing complexes themselves.

When asked whether the Brownsville Partnership can serve as a model for the rest of the country, Haggerty asserted that every city in the country has its own Brownsville, and uniting city agencies, not-for-profits, and resident leaders to work together for communities like Brownsville is imperative for strategies to reduce homelessness.

“[T]hat basic idea of collaboration, of focus, of targeting very neglected communities, I think is absolutely applicable and smart for any city to think about,”Haggerty said.