“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
(Emma Lazarus ‘The New Colossus’, 1883)
I visited New York earlier in May: the emblematic city in the land of opportunity. But, like many global cities, she has her share of housing crises. I was last here 25 years ago volunteering on a homelessness project with New York City Relief as part of senior year at high school. Much has changed but much remains the same. On walking around, street homelessness is still observable on many corners, but there are improvements in policy to reduce this, for example Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing Policy (MIHP) which was adopted at the end of March 2016 and includes bold actions on numbers of affordable housing units to be included in new developments.
New York City Relief offers individual support on the street in various locations across the city; volunteers take a bus equipped with hot soup and bread, water, clothes and first-aid. People offer advice on housing and employment and there is also spiritual advice if needed, to help alleviate the ‘hopelessness’.
NYC Relief Bus, 1991 © Jo Richardson
NYC Relief shuttle bus, Chelsea Park, May 2016 © Jo Richardson
This service is little changed from the one I volunteered with 25 years ago. It can bring temporary relief and some hope to individuals, but for such a complex problem as homelessness, a flexible intervention at the systems level is required. There is a need for innovative non-governmental organisations to offer fresh approaches and new solutions.
On the advice of one of CCHR’s associates, BSHF’s David Ireland, I went to meet Paul Howard at Community Solutions. The work of this organisation is truly inspiring in scope and it is increasingly global in reach. Their 100,000 Homes Campaignwas awarded the World Habitat Award by the Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF) in 2014 and with the support of BSHF and other organisations it is now spreading across the U.S.A and indeed across the globe.They are helping to introduce projects across Canada, the U.S.A and Europe. Community Solutions is working with agencies across Europe and in London, the National Housing Federation have announced their NHF 100,000 homes campaign.
A Housing First approach isn’t entirely new; it has been tried in a number of cities for example in the UK and a report in 2015 has evaluated key findings to date. But a renewed focus, utilising housing first, and blending it with the expertise of Community Solutions’ work in many projects so far, is promising for areas like Valencia where the project has recently started and for Westminster where teams of people will be collecting data in the Summer 2016 on homelessness, as the first step in a new project in England.
The primary reason for my trip to the U.S.A was to give an invited Visiting Professor lecture to the Program on Negotiation (PON) in the Harvard University law school. The topic of my lecture was ‘Conflict Sites: negotiating a space and place for Travellers’. The talk linked to my ongoing research project funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and included links to some of the key theorists I have come to know based in PON, such as Bill Ury who was one of the authors of the famous Getting to Yes book. It was great to make the connections with recent and ongoing negotiation work by PON scholars and to hear the questions and comments on my talk that are so vital to ongoing critical reflection and improvement of research work.
Statue of John Harvard, in Harvard Yard on the University Campus, May 2016 © Jo Richardson
Jo Richardson is Professor of Housing and Social Research and Director of the Centre for Comparative Housing Research at De Montfort University, Leicester.