Community navigators build trusting relationships with people in and around Times Square to connect them with mental health services, help with housing, and medical treatment.
Meaningfully Engaging Individuals
The coronavirus pandemic caused a significant increase in the number of people who are housing insecure and living with severe mental health issues and/or substance use addictions gathering in and immediately around the Times Square area. Whether it is a warm meal or a pair of shoes, our team of Community Navigators help people address immediate needs and then work towards linking them to longer term housing, services, and support. With programs like Community First, law enforcement no longer has to be the only response to mental health crises and homelessness.
The Community Navigator team heads out into the neighborhood with clothing, socks, PPE, blankets, food, and other materials to begin engaging individuals in conversations around their needs. These may be people who are experiencing homelessness, staying in a local shelter, or are in need of mental health services, harm reduction services, benefits connections, medical treatment, or any other number of services. Community Navigators also link people with services that may be difficult, if not impossible, for them to access like bathroom facilities, general wellness support, haircuts, showers, and laundry services.READ AN OP-ED ABOUT THE PROGRAM
I remember when I first met you all. You gave me a blanket when I was cold. — Participant
The Community First model differs from existing street outreach initiatives because it focuses on building trusting relationships and meeting community members “where they’re at” before making linkages to more meaningful and significant services provided by community-based organizations in the Midtown Community Court’s network. The time spent building trust with community members in need results in those individuals confidently engaging in critical services with greater chances for long-term success.
Our program has made a big impact since launching in January 2021—reaching over 130 people in its first four months.
Meeting the Needs of the Community
Times Square Alliance approached the Center for Court Innovation, Midtown Community Court, Breaking Ground, and Fountain House during the height of the pandemic to ask for help designing and piloting an initiative to connect this population to the critical services they may need.
The end result is Community First—a holistic community response. We felt it was important not to employ or rely upon traditional policing to solve the community concerns that emerged in and around Times Square during the pandemic, and to implement an intervention that prevents people from ending up in the justice system.
I once lived out of a bag. With that being said, I really understand how things can change for the worst. At some point we all need a little helping hand. The people, the conditions, the circumstances, and boundaries that we respect is what sets this navigators program apart from the other outreach organization. — HARRY GLENN, Community Engagement Coordinator/Community Navigator
The qualitative data collected has allowed us to identify trends so that we may build supportive and a uniquely responsive network of services. As part of our next phase, we seek to hire full-time Community Navigators who are able to operationalize this program on a daily basis.
Starting in August 2021, we will have a full-time team of Community Navigators thanks to funding and support from New York City’s Department of Homeless Services. The funding will allow us to reach more people in need of services as we continue to collaborate with city agencies and our community-based partners over the next year.
Fountain House has hired an architect to design and build a Welcome Center that will be stationed in Times Square where community members may go to grab a cup of coffee, meet with a Community Navigator, and access the critical services they need. We are excited to open the Welcome Center in early July!