BRC's Homeless Outreach Program serves thousands of individuals experiencing homelessness in New York City 24/7/365. (FY19)
What do BRC’s Homeless Outreach Teams do?
Well over 200 outreach and case management staff (FY23: over 250 outreach and case management staff) work 24/7/365 throughout New York City’s subways, transit hubs and streets to help people find their maximum level of self-sufficiency, ideally leaving a life unsheltered and moving to permanent housing. All of BRC’s outreach teams work with individuals experiencing homelessness to motivate them to accept services that will get them off the streets both initially and for the long term. BRC’s outreach teams are trained to look beyond the surface, and to communicate with love and respect to individuals that are often poor, ill, scared, and traumatized by a lifetime of being let down by systems which were supposed to support them.
How do BRC’s Homeless Outreach Teams work?
We utilize a trauma-informed model of engagement to meet unsheltered New Yorkers where they are: we succeed by listening and motivating. Our clients are resilient and resourceful: they are experts at surviving in very difficult circumstances. BRC outreach workers have a challenging job convincing these men and women to let us help them. And while not every client agrees to come inside the first attempt, many do. Many more do so after additional contact with outreach workers. BRC’s outreach staff offers help, but doesn’t force, in order to send the message that we will be there to help them when they ask us to do so. And we keep coming back, establishing a relationship and earning trust.
What impact does the BRC Homeless Outreach Program have on the lives of New Yorkers experiencing homelessness?
From facing the public health crisis of poverty, mental illness, and addiction to that of the global COVID-19 Pandemic, BRC Homeless Outreach staff are helping unsheltered New Yorkers reclaim their lives. In the last year alone, BRC’s outreach teams made over 9,000 contacts per month (FY23: over 7500 contacts per month) with individuals experiencing homelessness, resulting in 4,090 placements (FY23: 12,800 placements) of homeless individuals from the subways and streets into safe havens, shelters, housing, drop-in centers, detoxification and other needed services, averaging 11 placements a day (FY23: 35 placements/day). These placements included 512 clients (FY23: 1968 placements) who were placed into BRC programs. Additionally, in 2019 DHS data shows that these placements are successful: DHS reported between 2016-2019, BRC engaged and placed 600 individuals who had been living unsheltered in the subway and who are now housed and remain off the streets and out of the subways.
Where does the BRC Homeless Outreach Program work?
We have many partners. The City of New York, through the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), the State of New York, through the MTA, and Amtrak, all invest in our efforts. We are in the city subways 24 hours a day, each and every day, as well as at Penn Station and Grand Central, where we have offices and dedicated staff (at Penn at the foot of the escalator at 32nd and 7th, and at GCT on the lower concourse, next to the police substation). You may even see us at a Metro North or Long Island Railroad station north and east of the City. We’re also fortunate to partner with two of Manhattan’s business improvement districts (BIDs): the Downtown Alliance and the East Midtown Partnership, where we work with community and business leaders to help, not harass, people in need.
What do industry leaders have to say about BRC’s Homeless Outreach model?
BRC’s homeless outreach model utilized by BRC was recently reviewed by the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR), as part of the publication’s review of “How Ten Global Cities Take On Homelessness: Innovations that Work,” co-authored by BRC’s President & CEO Muzzy Rosenblatt. The SSIR notes that BRC’s homeless outreach model represents “a significant contribution to the field,” noting that in order to assist individual experiencing homelessness “outreach workers must build trust developed with trauma-informed principles that require empathy and sensitivity. An offer of shelter can never be a onetime, take-it-or-leave-it opportunity, and the authors emphasize that coercion is “not an effective strategy.”
In addition, BRC regularly submits to external evaluation and is proud of the recognition that we have achieved, including being awarded the New York Nonprofit (NYN) Cause Award, being named as a finalist for the Drucker Prize for Nonprofit Innovation, and receiving New York Community Trust Nonprofit Excellence Award, and many others.
What about the 2019 NYS Comptroller Audit of homeless outreach in the NYC subway system?
In 2019, BRC’s homeless outreach programs funded by NYS MTA and NYC DHS were the focus of two NYS Comptroller audits, as well as an investigation by the MTA Inspector General. BRC believes that the NYS Comptroller audits failed to accurately recognize and represent critical components of effective and successful outreach. The MTA Inspector General report, released in June 2020, confirmed this opinion, and BRC was successful in bidding for, and winning, the most recent NYC DHS subway outreach contract, which went into effect on October 1, 2020 and has an annual value of more than $22 million.
While mischaracterizing BRC’s subway outreach work, BRC is committed to organizational learning and improvement, and continues to improve our programs to address identified inefficiencies and weaknesses identified within existing outreach operations and BRC’s contracts with the City and State.
What did the 2020 MTA Inspector General Report conclude about BRC’s Homeless Outreach Program?
In June 2020, after an 11-month investigation, the MTA Inspector General concluded that BRC performed consistent with its contractual responsibilities, and that the MTA must improve how it sets its goals for addressing homelessness and more clearly define these in its contracts and communications. Regarding BRC’s Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal homeless outreach staff, the report acknowledges that “there are many required activities that take place out of sight,” and which “can take hours.” In its review of worker time and BRC invoices, an army of investigators “did not find fraud.”
The report concludes with recommendations that include improving reporting, data collection, contract language and oversight, communication and coordination, and goal setting. BRC agrees that these changes will make it easier for us to succeed even more than we do already, and is in the process of implementing them in our current 6-year contract with DHS for subway homeless outreach.