The BronxWorks Jerome Avenue Men’s Shelter (JAMS) is a 200-bed behavioral health shelter that provides transitional housing to adult homeless men with mental illness and, oftentimes, co-occurring substance use disorder. It is a key resource in the effort to address homelessness in New York City. Over the course of 2021, JAMS completed 82 housing placements, over 40% of the program’s census. In total, the BronxWorks Adult Homeless Department made 197 housing placements in 2021 across six different programs that also includes three safe havens, the Living Room Drop-in Center, and the Homeless Outreach Team.
Tamara Gayle, the Residence Director of JAMS, says her program, as a component of the overall Adult Homeless Department, was so successful in housing placements over the past year for a number of reasons.
It all starts with intake: clients come to JAMS from sites and programs throughout the city. When they arrive, JAMS assigns each client to a Case Manager, who schedules a client meeting to collect the necessary consent forms that allow staff to pull a client’s incident history, past assessments and psychosocial analyses, and any old or active housing applications. Clients are quickly registered for the onsite medical clinic run by Care for the Homeless and scheduled for a psychiatric evaluation within the first 30 days of arrival. Case Managers meet with clients regularly to create a personalized service plan and to assist them with other resources like obtaining vital documents or entitlements and benefits. Every client arrives with a different story to tell, and it is up to JAMS staff to record their histories accurately and thoroughly to complete the best and most competitive housing application available to them.
Successful housing placements, though, go beyond the completion of a housing application; they rely on an array of surrounding support that prepares a client for the housing process and long-term success after placement. Successful placements start with a frank and open relationship with clients, educating them on the process and preparing them for realistic housing expectations. The process can take a long time, and clients can become easily discouraged. To help manage the uncertainty, Tamara ensures that her team regularly meets with each client to provide timely updates throughout the entire process.
Preparation also involves psychoeducation, helping clients develop insight into their own diagnoses. While clients are living at JAMS, staff work to connect them to treatment for their diagnoses or substance use and encourage proper medication adherence. For the more complicated cases, staff complete applications for Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) or Intensive Mobile Treatment (IMT) teams to secure an additional level of support and outpatient care for clients once they move out, giving housing providers and clients more confidence in the long-term success of the placement.
We want every line of defense for the client.”
-Tamara Gayle, Residence Director, Jerome Avenue Men’s Shelter
The work does not end when a client’s housing application is accepted; one of the most critical components is aftercare, or the work done with the client after they are placed to ensure success. JAMS staff establish open communication with each housing provider throughout the placement process. They are present during housing interviews and they physically assist with move-ins and transitioning clients to the new housing provider, known as a “warm hand off”. As a reward for a successful move-out, JAMS gives each client a housing starter kit containing the essential items needed for independent living, like cleaning supplies, kitchen utensils, and toiletries. For the three months after a client moves out, JAMS schedules and conducts home visits to ensure that they are adjusting comfortably to their new housing situation, keeping up with their activities of daily living, making sure that rent is paid, and that there are no disruptions within the community.
It is this holistic, person-centered strategy, rooted in the belief in the Housing First approach, that has led JAMS to achieve so many successful housing placements over the past year. Housing First is the belief that providing permanent housing and thereby resolving a client’s homelessness can serve as a platform from which they can pursue their goals and improve their quality of life.
It must be noted that COVID-19 did bring challenges to the work, including a complete move of the program and its entire census to a hotel in Manhattan, along with a corresponding move back to the Bronx and delays in the housing application process, just to name a few. Throughout it all, the team at JAMS, as well as the entire BronxWorks Adult Homeless Services Department, have persevered, coming in day after day to end homelessness for a remarkable number of clients.