Last Sunday, TheNew York Times (April 30, 2006, A30) carried a fascinating story about the efforts of Rosanne Haggerty, founder of Common Ground Community in New York City, to "reinvent" an old flophouse hotel located deep in the Bowery.
The Andrews House is a 97-year-old lodging house or "cubicle hotel" that for several decades has served the housing needs of aging men, who otherwise likely would be homeless, .
Haggerty intends to renew Andrews House to provide what she calls "first step" housing for persons who have rejected other housing options for a life on the street.
I love what she told Janny Scott, the reporter who wrote the piece: "We want to get people now alienated from the idea of living in housing to enter in on their own terms, and then work with them from there."
Now there is a novel idea.
Give people what they want!
Where did Haggerty get her idea about redeveloping Andrews House as a first-rate, high-quality, well-managed, new sort of "flophouse"?
From the people who might become her tenants.
Common Ground conducted over 100 face-to-face interviews with people whom they met in soup kitchens and shelters. The purpose of the interviews was to discover what homeless people were looking for in housing.
The answers that came back were clear and simple.
Common Ground went further.
Homeless persons were invited to focus groups to help design the units.
Haggerty has concluded from her worldwide research that the size of the unit is not as important as the design of the space available and the context of the space's location. In other words, what additional amenities are nearby?
When the renovation is complete, the new Andrews House will house 146 residents. The forty-six men who currently reside in the building will be allowed to move back in and stay as long as they like, no questions asked. New residents will pay $7 per night and after three weeks will be required to get involved in services related to finding permanent housing.
I love the approach Common Ground is taking.
Often service providers make assumptions about what people need and want.
Key truth to remember: Middle class goals don't necessarily translate to success in addressing life challenges for everyone!
The ability to listen, really listen to people is an important step in the right direction if our desire is to solve problems, while partnering to make life better for low-income persons.
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Rising from Ashes
Larry James' Urban Daily
A repository of ideas, resources, commentary and opinions concerning the issues facing low-income residents of the inner cities of the United States and how mainstream America largely forgets or, worse, ignores the day-to-day realities of urban life for the so-called "poor." Written and edited by the President & CEO of CitySquare. Please visit CitySquare.
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