CUCS is leading a campaign to reduce street homelessness across Manhattan. As part of a contract with the New York City Department of Homeless Services, CUCS is now leading the Manhattan Outreach Consortium (MOC) and overseeing all outreach and housing placement services for men and women living on the streets of Manhattan. We sat down with Erica Strang, current Director of the MOC, for some insight into the program’s evolution and her thoughts on what CUCS’ leadership will bring to the MOC.
How was the MOC established?
The MOC began in 2007. Prior to then, outreach services were managed by numerous providers. Communication and coordination between these providers was difficult and the work was focused on ensuring people’s safety, which is important, but provided no direct route to housing. In 2007 CUCS joined with Breaking Ground and Goddard Riverside Community Center to create the consortium. This allowed for better communication. It also established a clear goal of getting folks into housing.
Since 2007, how has the MOC changed?
Manhattan used to be divided between seven different agencies, now, the MOC is comprised of three: CUCS, Breaking Ground and Goddard Riverside Community Center. While there were always street outreach teams working 24/7, not every provider had an overnight team. Today, the overnight shift has expanded and teams from each agency are out 24/7 helping individuals overcome the barriers into housing. The idea is that if you go out when people are sleeping, you can verify that they live outside as opposed to use a shelter system but spend the day outside. So over time, the structure changed but the process of how we work remained the same.
Why do you think the process has remained the same?
I believe we have been doing outreach the same way since it started because we feel that it works. An important part of our work with folks on the street is consistency. We build trusting relationships with people by doing what we say we are going to do. For example, if we say we are going to come back to meet with them the following day, we do it. We go back to a person even when they are not interested in talking to us initially and work with them to take steps towards housing they are comfortable with. It is possible that these individuals have worked with other programs in the past and didn’t feel the right options were offered to them. There are also people who get placed inside and it doesn’t work out and they end up back on the street. We assure them that we will keep working with them to find the right option. Every situation is different and nobody wants to be out on the street. We prioritize making connections and relationships with people to figure out the next steps that work for them.
Before becoming the lead in the MOC, what was CUCS’ role?
Beyond providing the street outreach services for our geographic portion of the city, outreach teams have always had a Janian psychiatrist, so CUCS has always provided the psychiatric treatment to the street outreach teams. In the past, we also did a lot of the initial staff training through CUCS’ training department. We actually lost the funding to be able to do that, but will be getting it back now that we have the contract, so we will be setting up trainings for all of the MOC staff with the CUCS training department.
In the past year, the biggest new thing has been the addition of our street medicine team. That was really a missing piece of the MOC. We previously used our psychiatrists as medical doctors but they could only provide so many services in terms of medicinal care. Getting someone who lives on the street to a doctor’s appointment can be incredibly difficult, so being able to bring a medical doctor out to the field and talk with someone is important. I really think any way you can make it easier for street homeless individuals to connect to psychiatric care and medical care really breaks down barriers.
What does it mean for CUCS to take the lead in the MOC?
It means that we have more of a say in the oversight of how things are run and we also have more backing from CUCS and the infrastructure that already exists here. For example, the Quality Assurance department is very developed at CUCS and does a lot of great work for our programs. Now, it can provide that kind of assistance for the MOC, helping us to start working on our incident review committee policy and how we can improve things.
The MOC has been running really well over the past 10 years, it’s not like we are taking over or starting something that is brand new. It’s a well-operating machine and we can sort of find a few ways to make some changes – sometimes it’s helpful to have a fresh face come in and see what improvements could be made.