Re: Organizing to defeat anti-homeless initiatives

Graeme Bacque (
Tue, 07 Apr 1998 21:52:34 -0400

To encourage the discussion of this particular subject I am going to forward a copy
of a report on New York City's 'Continuum of Care' program which was prepared by a
couple of City of Toronto officials who visited NYC in November of last year. Keep
in mind that the horn-blowing on behalf of  Toronto's approach is bullshit but
otherwise this is a highly informative and critical report.

It is my understanding that the Province of Ontario favors the 'Continuum of Care'
model as an approach to dealing with homeless persons - all I can say about this is
'Be afraid... be very, very afraid.'



Robert Yamashita and Alice Gorman

January 1998


1) There is little recognition of the dignity, will, inherent skills and diversity
of the individual persons experiencing homelessness.

2) There is no recognition of the strength and potential of the community of
homeless people (there is no Community Development component).

3) There is no systemic analysis about the root societal/economic/globalization
causes to homelessness.

4) Community development, or any  non-judgemental approach that starts with where
people are at (eg. harm reduction, self help, CED) are antithesis to the Continuum
of Care ( C of C)approach.

5) The program definition of "Continuum" means a linked system that the individual
must move through in designated timeframes as opposed to our interpretation of a
"Continuum" as a set of options to be used when and if the person chooses.

6) The program is based in the belief that homelessness is essentially the result
of individual mental illness, addictions and unemployment.  The personal
responsibility tenets of the program are imbued with judgements of laziness,
weakness of character, lack of accountability, criminality and sickness. The
clients are almost
exclusively African and Hispanic - Americans.

7) The solution to homelessness is a coordinated treatment program complemented
with a time limited private sector based housing subsidy program. The assessment
aspects of the program are limited in their diagnoses by the narrow levels of C of
C responses.

8) The program is very expensive, time limited and based in zero tolerance.

9) The program was a precursor but is presently the implementing program to the
national Personal Responsibility Legislation.

10) Public and private sector support is garnered through immediate and tangible
results eg. no visible homeless population, perceptions of crime reduction,
increased business and tourism.

11) The program supports a new layer of unqualified private sector service

12) The existing community based agencies have changed their localized/client
centred approach in order to be part of city/state wide program.

13) The clients, patients or customers are expected to assimilate into mainstream
jobs, housing and society  and be independent of any program/subsidy support within
a 2 year time frame.

14) The localized nature of homeless persons existence has been dislocated in the
transportation of individuals out of their neighbourhoods and in some cases out of
the city.

15) Visible homelessness has been criminalized and the police form the frontline to
the points of entry into the Continuum. This is empowered by law in Mayor
Guiliani's "Quality of Life" act.

16) By state legislation all homeless services must have full security measures
including metal detectors and personal searches. This has effectively eliminated
anyone who might exhibit anti- social behaviors.

17) The people who are newly homeless and have had mainstream experience can move
through the system easier. It is this group that derives the greatest benefit from
the C of C and supports their success data.

18) This is a relief system and in concert with personal responsibility legislation
eliminates any concept of entitlement.

20) All agencies that were visited used psycho tropic medication as basic support
for all their clients.

21) After the assessment all clients enter into "performance contracts" which
commits them to the treatment plan and time frames.

22) Overnight in 1994 this system was imposed on the existing homeless support

23) There is no long term commitment to the C of C program.

24) The Department of Homeless Service actively destroyed Community Economic
Development projects.

25) If clients pay for their stay in the hostels they do not have to participate in
the performance contracts.

26) This is a top down system, the homeless and frontline staff have no input into
policy, administration or review .

27) The program overtly discriminates between those who are deemed deserving and
those who are not.

CONCLUSIONS:) Heightened awareness of value of the dignified and sensitive
approaches that are continuously evolving in the City of Toronto.

2) Our programs and projects are sucessful, long lasting and sustainable because
they recognize the role of homeless persons, the need for local solutions and the
critical role of skilled frontline staff.

3) We already have a highly developed and sophisicated systems of a Continuum of
Support and a Community Development Continuum. However we are by nature reluctant
to recognize and celebrate our made at home solutions.

5) We recognize the patience and time required to resolve complex human issues.

6) We recognize the diversity of the homeless population and need for a rainbow of
supports and alternative approaches.

7) We recognize the need for innovations and social experimentation.

8) Our open ended systems of services have evolved overtime as opposed to
imposition of a closed system. As such our services can adapt and remain relevant
to local and personal needs as they change.

9) Our services and the homeless have in large measure described clients needs.

10) We also provide services under the component labels (outreach assessment,
transition and long term housing), however; the underlying principles and style of
delivery are dramatically different.


In late November of 1997 Robert Yamashita of the Housing Division and Alice Gorman
of the Public Health Division of the City of Toronto had the opportunity to examine
New York City's Continuum of Care Program for the homeless. The visit was setup
through the office of Mayor Hall to the Deputy Commissioner's office of Lisa Diaz
at the Department of Homeless Services.

New York State is the only state that is constitutionally (Article 17) obligated to
"take care of the needy". Social advocacy organizations forced the state through
the courts to enforce the constitution. In the 1970's the vast number of armouries
were  used to house persons experiencing homelessness. Mayor Koch during his tenure

as the Mayor of New York city enacted a "consent decree" which guaranteed shelter
for all persons that needed it. He also created the "Homesteading" program to help
rebuild abandoned buildings where the homeless squatted. This program was squashed
by the introduction of the C of C program.

At the same time the state created a law known as the "winter alarm" with a 90 day
annual limit. Part of this legislation allowed the police to establish general
patrols to pick up homeless persons who were demeaned to be " a danger to

In 1992 Andrew Cuomo Chaired the Commission on homeless, known as the "Way Home".
It recommended the establishment of the "Continuum of Care" ( C of C) program.
Subsequently as the Director of the national Housing the Urban Development Agency
(HUD) Cuomo established a housing subsidy program to assist cities in procuring
private housing rental stock for persons participating in the C of

The other important player in the development and evaluation of the C of C both
locally and nationally is Dennis Culhane. He is the academic resource and policy
developer that has been instrumental in the promotion of the concept of the
Continuum of Care.

In May of 1994 Mayor Guiliani created the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) to
work in co-ordination with an array of clean up initiatives. The department was to
experiment with the C of C approach and be reviewed biannually. Guiliani was
re-elected in 1997 on his dramatic record of cleaning up the city.


     "It recognizes that government has the responsibility to care for the needy

     "...but it also expects homeless people to take personal responsibility for
their      lives."

     " New Yorkers expect drastic reform of New York's program for  assisting
homeless people ... and that a system replaces temporary solutions with permanent

     " a system that provides emergency assistance to those who  truly need
it,             assesses their needs within a limited time frame, and refers them,
where            appropriate, to services to meet those needs and end their
homelessness. "


1. Implement a comprehensive eligibility determination process and ensure that
scarce resources will be available to those most in need.

2. Implement a full continuum of care including outreach, prevention, shelter
diversion, eligibility determination, assessment, emergency shelter, access to
needed services, and access to permanent and supportive housing.

3. Make available flexible client-based services.

4. Ensure short stays in emergency shelters.

5. Develop small, community based programs.

6. Mutual responsibility.

7. Better management.

8. Changes in Shelter Capacity.

9. Improved government colloboration.

10.Strengthen the Chief Executive's (Mayor) responsibility.


1. "The city will undertake a more aggressive outreach effort to homeless people
...and provide direct placements into treatment programs".

2. " The primary means of access to the adult shelter system will be through new
emergency assessment shelters. The goal will be to assess the individual's needs
and move him or her through the emergency system within 90 days. Those who refuse a
housing placement, or who have sufficient funds to make their own living
arrangements, but refuse to do so, will be ineligible for continued temporary
housing assistance.

3."Eligible applicants who are mentally ill, alcohol or substance abusers,
unemployed ... will be referred from assessments centers to providers of
rehabilitative treatment. The provider will develop a treatment plan with which the
individual is expected to comply as a condition of continued eligibility. "

4."Adults who refuse placements in programs offering rehabilitative treatment will
be referred to a municipal residence facility. These facilities will have staff to
reconnect residents to treatment or other rehabilitative programs".

5. Access to housing is critical to ensure that stays in costly emergency shelters
and residential treatment programs are as brief as possible.

(A important component of the outreach function and the major tool to criminalize
homelessness is Mayor Guiliani's "Quality of Life " by-law. It is an enforcement
plan that gives the police unprecedented power to remove the homeless from all
public spaces.)


For the adult C of C program the annual budget of 369 million dollars ( half a
billion CDN dollars) serves approximately 15,000 people. In the absence of any
public health care these funds are used for basic health services. Generally the
homeless have very
little access to any services and this program attempts to provide these.

The city staff were reluctant to provide any data or cost figures for the program.


There are no more visible homeless persons on the streets of New York city. Even in
semi public spaces in subway tunnels or makeshift shanties the homeless are no
longer visible. The very few that are seen from time to time shuffle along a
manageable pace, because they are no longer allowed to stop.

Private companies have their own agents to keep their strips clean and free of
"vagrants". The public supports the program because there is a perception of a
safer city. However the coersive and often violent nature of the police and
community outreach initiatives ( mean sweep ) is now experiencing a public


We examined the Philadelphia Continuum of Care in 1995 and had a thorough
presentation of the same program in South Bend Indiana at a Homeless workshop in
October 1997. It is apparent that C of C is a national program in the United
States. Although the National McKinney Act of 1985 provided the enabling
legislation for
community development, state sponsored homeless initiatives it is no longer funded
and is superseded by the Personal Responsibilities act of 1997. As in Canada the
national government has devolved responsibilities for the administration of social
programs to the state but the controlling  legislation remains a national one.


City of Toronto's existing  made at home  CONTINUUM OF SUPPORT and Community
Development Continuum need to be recognized, supported, and enhanced.

The City of Toronto, its community agencies, volunteers, institutions and programs
have worked very hard over the past 25 years to create both a system of support and
the framework for community development initiatives. These programs and projects
recognize the need for supports as they are required and the dignity of homeless
persons to develop self help alternatives. It is imperative to begin identifying
both the existing services and their linkages in order to formalize a Continuum of
Support and
a Community Development Continuum. Although these systems are essentially different
in nature, style of delivery and temporal qualities they nonetheless cover the
spectrum of approaches that provide short and long term solutions for people
experiencing homelessness.


This is a day shelter program in the heart of the financial district. It is managed
by the Trinity Church and serves 106 designated/referred clients. There are
approximately 30% white clients, the rest are black. The church has their own
outreach services and additional church shelters. All clients are medicated
as an essential part of their program. Most of the clients have trusteed their
incomes to the church.


This is a Brooklyn based project in a former armoury. It is managed by a local
merchants association and serves 70 women with long term pyschiatric problems. Like
many of private sector providers they are in a tall learning curve. Only now after
2 years is there a sense of a stable service with appropriate staff. The clients
referred to this service from city wide assessment centres and come from the region
at large. Most the recreation programs are volunteer delivered. High airport style
security for everyone entering and leaving facility.


This former psychiatric institution has been converted for several large Continuum
of Care projects. All services are contracted.

1. General shelter
This a general shelter for 850 adults over 32 years of age with no outstanding
warrants. There are no young addicts permitted. Shelter clients must be used to
camping. Most (1000 people) are directed to Camp La Guardia, a former prison 50
miles northwest of the city. Clients choose this option to get away from the city
and the required activity of many shelters. Camp occupants are bused from the rural
shelter and processed through this centre for all services.

2. The Assessment Centre
This is one of 3 city wide assessment centres. Private transport companies move
people to vacancies in other shelters. After 4pm public transit tokens are

3. Volunteers of America
This is the largest agency in New York state. This projects provides 46 clients
with long term mental illness, a 6 month program to prepare them for housing. These
are people who are "hostel resistant" and require high levels of psychiatric
Low demand facility with no medications forced on clients. They receive 3 meals a
day and have full time access to 5 case managers.


This is the largest Vets centre in the US. It serves 410 short homeless vets.
Contract with Veterans Affairs and the city Department for Homeless services.
Successful in finding 300 full time mainstream jobs for clients. Forty percent
return to centre
over time. It has a staff of 10 full time social workers and one family counsellor.
The DHS identifies this as an Employment Program Shelter.


This is in one of the largest armouries in the USA ( approximately six football
fields in dimension). Until 1994 it the largest family hostel in New York City.
Presently it is managed by a organization as a primary assessment centre and a
transition hostel for 40 women (all African-American). They are all medicated and
have a 90 day limited on their residency before moving on to permanent housing.


This is a satelite project of BRC. It is a former Bowery flophouse that housed 650
men in very small (4x7) cubicles. Presently it is a 60 bed shelter and support
single men for up to 6 month whilst they reconnected to housing and jobs. They have
an Aids support program, employment search program, and a day drop-in. The
Executive Director is a disenchanted former Commissioner of the Department of Human
Services who understood the inherent flaws in the Continuum of Care system. This
project is member of the System however it is trying to bridge the gap between the
System and street realities. The project and its staff recognize that the people
who benefit the most from this approach are the newly homeless who have the least
difficulty in regaining a mainstream existence. The longer term homeless with more
complex issues reap the least benefit and in most cases cannot participate.

                   E-Quality of Life Campaign

State legislation provides funding and support for advocacy and watch dog
organizations to scrutinize the C of C. This organization was started by homeless
people and is staffed largely with volunteers. This organization educates the
homeless about human rights violations, structures legal responses, monitors
sweeps, and
tracks hidden shelters. They are also affordable housing advocates. Provide support
to the very small group of community agencies willing to question city policies and
C of C.

In their observations many of the community outreach agency have been pushed to
perform and act more violently than the police. The "Eligibility Verification
Review" system has been useful in redefining homelessness to fit the C of C program
and produces successes. The state Govenor Burtaci has enacted a bill relieving all
shelters of their need to conform to Fire, Building and Health Codes.