It has been a year since CUCS took the lead in a campaign to reduce street homelessness across Manhattan. In July of 2017, we became the lead agency of the Manhattan Outreach Consortium (MOC), overseeing all outreach and housing placement services for men and women living on the streets of Manhattan. To mark this milestone, we sat down with MOC Deputy Director Lauren Taylor for some insight into her career, the program’s evolution and what working in this field means to her.
Could you explain what the MOC is and what role you play as the Deputy Director?
The MOC is made up of CUCS and two partner agencies, Breaking Ground and Goddard Riverside. Together, the agencies conduct street outreach throughout the borough of Manhattan with the goal of moving homeless individuals off the streets and into housing. As the Deputy Director, I work closely with Director Erica Strang to oversee the entire operation. We communicate and coordinate with the Department of Homeless Services and our outreach teams around specific client matters and programmatic issues. More broadly, we develop strategies to utilize our resources most effectively to help our clients work towards housing.
How did you get into this type of work?
I knew early on I wanted to work with people experiencing homelessness. I grew up in Los Angeles where homelessness is very visible and my family made it a priority to show me that there are ways we can help. In my first year at Columbia School of Social Work, I interned with the Coalition for the Homeless and was really drawn to the work, solidifying my interest in working with this population.
My first job after graduation was with the MOC working as a street outreach team supervisor with Goddard Riverside. I became a Program Director several years later and in 2015 took on my current role as the Deputy Director of the MOC also at Goddard. I started at CUCS when they took over the MOC contract in 2017. I am actually coming up on my seven year MOCaversary!
Congratulations, that is exciting! Over your time with MOC, how has it evolved?
We have gotten a lot bigger. In 2016, changes in the City allowed us to expand and help people that were not being served before. The MOC’s original focus was to help chronically homeless individuals which are people who have been living on the streets for 9 out of 24 months. While many of our clients fit those criteria, some do not. So with some new city policies and programs, we became able to work with everyone on the streets.
Today, we are developing ways to use our resources most effectively to serve our clients. People living on the streets have a myriad of needs and we are working on strategies to address them across the board. We are exploring how to connect people to benefits they may be eligible for and are hiring a new staff member to our Street Medicine team to expand the ways we enhance our clients’ wellbeing. Our ultimate goal for our clients is still permanent housing, but strategies like these can help on the way and possibly expedite people into housing.
What is your favorite part about what you do?
Even though I am not on the street doing the outreach anymore, I am part of the program that allows for this incredible work to happen. I hear about the wins, victories and the struggles. I think it is wonderful that our program celebrates every milestone with our clients. Whether it is a big milestone, like moving into housing, or a small one, like visiting the office for the first time, both are received with similar excitement. We recognize that each moment is important; every step is a big step. Being part of this work and a program that helps maintain and move it forward has been really exciting for me.
What has it been like to work both on the service and the managerial side of street outreach?
I think my background working on the field has been really beneficial to me in my current role. I think it is important if you are going to be in any managing position to have experience on the ground. Having been a team supervisor, I have experience doing outreach and working with clients through the housing process. I understand the challenges case managers and clients face every day and am able to lend my own experience to the conversation.
Is there a client success story from your time working on the ground that has stayed with you?
There have been so many success stories, but I remember one in particular that really stood out. There was one client who for years refused help. He would talk with us but always insisted on staying out on the streets, regardless of the weather. If I remember correctly, he even turned us down the day before Hurricane Sandy hit.
Despite his refusal, we kept checking in and giving him our number until one day he called the office and said “okay, let’s do this, I am ready!” We went over, picked him up and connected him to housing that day! I remember he addressed the whole office and thanked us for sticking with him and that he knew who he could call once he was ready to be helped. It was a sweet moment. He ended up getting permanently housed, it was great.
Sometimes we have clients who are interested in being helped immediately, for some it takes more time and it is a gradual shift. Maybe they agree to be helped on one thing, but at the end of the day, things have to be on their own terms. In this situation, I am not sure what it was that day that made him want help but it is pretty great that we could be there for him in that moment.