Enterprising Women

by Tori Lyon GIVING BACK T here are few conditions as heartbreaking as homelessness. Whether you are a parent, child, veteran or LGBTQ young adult, the indignity of being stepped over or ignored on a city street or subway is numbing. Strong leaders know how to own up to their mistakes, learn the lesson, and move on. There’s a certain level of vulnerability in doing this, but by opening up about past mistakes, you can build opportunities to connect with others. Homelessness is often the latest step in a series of economic, social or mental health setbacks: the family with a disabled child that is one paycheck away from eviction; the young person being sent away because of their sexual identity, or the veteran struggling to reconnect to civilian society. At Jericho Project, a 36-year old nonprofit ending homelessness at its roots in New York City, we know that a compassionate and supportive approach can enable each person we serve to lead a fulfilling life. While Jericho has grown substantially in my 23 years with the organization, we have been stalwart in preserving a structure that nurtures personal relationships among our staff and clients. This is the core reason we have enabled thousands of formerly homeless individuals to move “off the street, and on with life.” Our first conversation starts when we are getting people out of shelters or temporary housing and placing them in one of our 550 units of “supportive housing.” This is their own lease and key to an apartment in one of our nine residences and network of apartments in New York City where they will access crucial support with employment, mental health and life skills. In this conversation, we ask about their hopes and dreams – often the first time they have been asked this question in their lives. We might ask, “What did you want to be when you were a child?” This helps to unlock goals for themselves and provide powerful context for Jericho’s on-site counselors and specialists. Similarly, we have gotten to know the specific needs of different populations we serve – adults, families, veterans and now young adults – who each benefit when our services and even physical set-up are customized to them. Let’s take veterans for example. We knew from our work with Vietnam veterans that they suffered from undiagnosed PTSD resulting in self- medication through substance abuse and ensuing homelessness. That’s why we initiated our Veterans Initiative in 2006 to anticipate and meet the need for trauma support of those returning first from Iraq and later from Afghanistan. To really understand what veterans would need, we created a Veterans Advisory Board of military, business and nonprofit veterans across the country. They explained how the bond of serving extends across generations, and to truly engage veterans we would need to design a place they could interact as a community. Since then we have built three state-of-the-art Veterans Residences with connective social activities, gardens, computer centers and exercise spaces. “We understand each other,” said one veteran who has found peace in late night conversations in the Community Room. “We salute each other in the halls,” said another. Similarly, when Jericho saw the growing need for housing among young adults in New York, we began building a program to get 18-25 years olds housed and employed. Last summer we opened Walton House, the first residence of its kind that includes 33 studios for young adults. Here again we insisted on a fresh approach. Those of us who have young adults in our lives know that they tend to listen to each other more than older people. That’s why we have young “life coaches,” who are available in the evening and weekends when the residents most need to connect, as well as “peer mentors” who have experienced some of the same hardships around housing and JERICHO PROJECT A Personal Approach to Ending Homelessness While I, too, wish for a time without homelessness, I also gain a great deal of satisfaction knowing that 95% of Jericho’s residents do not return to homelessness. 62 enterprising Women