If we didn’t already know it before, what many have discovered over the course of this pandemic is that we live in a system that is unprepared to meet the needs of marginalized people during a global crisis. The failures in our system were quickly heightened and exposed at the onset. At particular risk were individuals living in poverty or experiencing homelessness. Lacking permanent housing means that these individuals cannot effectively self-isolate. They are exposed to increased risk every day and lack access to infrastructure and supply to maintain their health and mitigate risk. Many have compromised health conditions which put them under even greater risk to suffer the worst effects of the virus. The fear and uncertainty we are all feeling affects this community ten-fold.
Between August 2003 and March 2020, Unity Project operated out of our facility in Old East Village, accommodating 34-45 individuals nightly in a participatory, and home-like shelter environment. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we shifted emergency shelter operations to a hotel, at times doubling our occupancy where residents have private rooms that allow for physical distancing, and prioritizing those with medical conditions which make them more vulnerable to the worst effects of the virus, including couples together and people with pets. We continue to provide supportive housing at our Old East Village property and to support our Housing Stability Program participants.
Much has changed within our emergency shelter services but the core Housing First goals, principles and best-practices of our program remain intact, and we have enhanced our low-barrier, housing-focused, case-management model emergency shelter in context of a pandemic and within a facility in transition.
We have adapted. 32% of the individuals (and their pets) who stayed with us over the first year and half of the pandemic achieved housing.
We expect our emergency shelter operations to remain at the hotel for the duration of the pandemic and beyond, until we develop a new facility that will amply and appropriately accommodate our work and weather a global crisis.