Still Caring. Still Effective. Still BRC.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought dual health and economic crises to the doorsteps of our city, BRC has never stopped providing essential care to New Yorkers experiencing homelessness.
BRC is still present in the lives of our clients and community, providing over 3,000 New Yorkers with life saving services around the clock every day.
BRC is still caring, providing support for isolated and vulnerable clients, adapting substance abuse treatment and mental health services to socially distanced and Telehealth models.
BRC is still effective, helping hundreds of unsheltered New Yorkers depart the subways for safety and shelter during the overnight subway closures.
Join us here as we share stories of resilience, strength, and innovation from the frontlines of BRC's work
Still Working: James R. and Hank S.'s Stories
James R.’s Story
I was born in Harlem, and my three siblings and I were raised by my mother. I entered the shelter system after losing an apartment that I was subleasing from a friend. I came to BRC’s shelter at the Palace in July, and started working with the Horizon’s program just a few days after that.
I was already working overnight as an Assistant Manager at storage facility when I entered the shelter, but it wasn’t enough to make ends meet. Horizons helped me to update my resume and provided job counselling that helped me to get a second job as a Residential Aide for the African American Planning Commission in Brooklyn.
From there, things got better. I worked at both jobs while I was in the shelter, and in October I moved into my own two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, Since moving into my own place I am focusing on increasing my success and meeting my long-term goals. I’ve since been able to get an even better job working as a Transportation Supervisor the local hospital, making my best wage yet.
Horizons continues to help me: providing car fare, helping me to maintain my employment, and consistently ensuring that I meet my milestones. Right now I am focused on increasing my savings so that I can meet my main goal of buying a house, sooner rather than later. I have three children, and I want to be able to have them with me.
Hank S.’s Story
I’m originally from Brooklyn, and I’m the first person in my family to be born and raised in America. My father was a Vietnam veteran, and family life was difficult after he returned to the household due to the impact that the war had on him. I’ve lost many people that I’ve loved to drugs, crime, and violence. Recently, I lost my eldest sister and Aunt to COVID.
I’d been unemployed for about three years before I lost the apartment that I had been living in for over 28 years. I came into the shelter system in January at BRC’s Palace Employment Shelter, and got hooked up with the Horizon’s program on the first day.
The Horizon’s program helped me with so many things: updating my resume, receiving interview attire, car fare, and a referral to visit the NYC Business Link, a program with the city that provides free job placement to individuals who are receiving housing and financial support in New York City.
With this help, I eventually found two different jobs: one as a delivery worker and one as a bartender. I’m still working full-time as a delivery worker, and in September I moved into my own apartment. In addition to keeping my employment, I’m focused on building up different kinds of business ventures so that will eventually lead to me being a business owner so that I can help others through hard times too.
I owe a great deal to the Horizons program and the staff at The Palace, and I am going to stay in contact with the Horizon’s program to help support others like me.
Still Thriving in Affordable Housing: Brenda's Story
"It’s hard to say exactly how long I went without housing before coming to Landing Road. It was such a hard, transient lifestyle at the time. I had come to New York from Florida without knowing a single soul, and for two or three years I found myself in and out of the shelters.
About three years ago when I was in a shelter I met someone from BRC. They told me that BRC was going to be opening this building, and that it would be possible for me to have my own apartment that I could afford myself. We began working together, and when I got the approval to move in here it was one of the best days of my life.
When I moved in, I was so happy to find not just my own space, but furniture and the normal things a person needs to feel good about where they live: a bed, a dresser, a kitchen. Since then, I have developed friendships scattered about New York, especially here in the Bronx where I go to church. I’m no longer a person who doesn’t know a soul.
Of course, the pandemic has changed all of our lives in terms of how we get to interact with people. I can only see my friends over Zoom. But the staff here have been wonderful in helping us take it one day at a time: providing supplies and helping with groceries if we are having trouble because of the pandemic. Just like everyone else – it’s been a challenge for me to stay inside and away from people. But it’s much easier to shelter at home when you have a home to shelter in."
Still Supporting Permanent Housing: Justin's Story
"As a Program Director at The Palace and Clyde Burton House, every time I think about the way our staff have responded to the pandemic two words come to mind immediately: bravery and courage. They are at work every day, commuting on the subways, facing down every obstacle that comes their way.
All of the clients in the programs that I manage are 55 or older and have some form of mental health or physical disability. They are some of the most vulnerable people out there – both in terms of the COVID-19 virus and in terms of being at risk for losing housing. Now, more than ever, we take our mandate to provide “supportive housing” seriously.
We have case managers, nurses who serve as Healthcare Coordinators, and a team of program aides that provide operations and support. They work together to ensure that tenants are able to access medical services, are following up on doctors recommendations, and are able to address whatever financial challenges they may be facing.
Many of our tenants are struggling with rent: some have lost their employment, and some can’t access public resources like banks and the post office out of fear of exposure to the virus. We help them to plan, to make payments on back-rent, and to move forward toward a more stable future.
Personally, I know that there’s always a risk of virus exposure every day that I come into work. I’ve had to really invest in my mental health, to develop stronger coping skills, and to practice self-care strategies to manage stress. At this point, I can say that I really look forward to, and enjoy coming into, work.
I'm glad to be here because our clients need us. And we need to care for ourselves, so that we can help to care for them."
Still Sober: Mary's Story
"My name is Mary, I’m a Cancer, and I’ve been on drugs since I was 14. Things started to get really serious for me when I was 23, and I started smoking crack cocaine for the first time. Eventually, I got arrested. I was in jail for two years and when I came out on parole I came to BRC’s Fred Cooper Substance Abuse Services Center (SASC) for the drug treatment program.
Sometimes it takes something that serious for someone to start to understand what they want in life, and to ask for the help that they need. I’d been in a couple of drug programs before, but until I came here I never thought that it would be possible to stay clean for as long as I have – a year and eight months. In other programs, I would listen to the counselors and, man, I wanted that sobriety. But I didn’t know how to get to that place, how to survive like that.
With my counselor Miss Renee, now I’m getting it. I’m learning how to function in the real world without being high, step by step. Since the coronavirus began, Miss Renee has been leading our groups on Zoom. To me, the way that she runs the sessions it feels like I am there in person with everyone. She is sharp and on point – the groups are still perfect.
She’s helped me to understand my own reasons for not wanting to use. I don’t want to feel the pain, or the embarrassment, or the guilt. I think about my mother a lot. Before she passed nine years ago, I tried to hide from her that I was smoking. But she knew somehow, and I know that it wasn’t what she wanted for me.
Losing her still hurts so much. But when I think about the reasons to not get high, I think about my mother – I don’t want all the people who care about me to see me using and not taking care of myself. The people that love me are happy that I am keeping the sobriety that I have. Over and over again, every time I fell down, they have watched me get back up and are still cheering for me.
I want to be a singer and a performer. I like to sing gospel and love songs – things that are true. I want to get married to the man I love, have a big beautiful wedding, and live happily ever after with him. These are the goals that inspire me to keep my sobriety, and it feels good."
Still Providing: Renee's Story
"Substance abuse counseling, like I do at SASC, is my passion and I love doing it. I help clients understand for themselves that the substances they have used, drugs and alcohol, have created obstacles in their lives that are preventing them from moving forward to be whatever they want to be. Many of my clients want to go back to school, want to be working, and to have better relationship with their families. I help them to understand how drugs got in the way of that through counseling, mental health and early recovery groups, and coordination with their doctors.
The majority of our clients at Fred Cooper are men, and I noticed that sometimes our female clients would lose their voice in group sessions. So I started a woman’s group in our program to offer a platform for them to focus on self-esteem, self-care, and emotional maturity in uncomfortable situations. I try to guide them in understanding that they have the ability to manage pain and trauma, and that they are worthy of good things in their lives. It’s a safe space for them to open up where they don’t have to push their needs aside to care for other people– what happens in Women’s Group stays in Women’s Group.
The pandemic may have changed some of the ways that we do our work, but at SASC we are doing the damned thing. COVID-19 has put a lot of pressure on our clients, many of whom are afraid to spend time outside or ride the trains, but also suffer from anxiety and depression while being isolated at home. The possibility of relapse hangs over it all. But we continue to do what we have always done – we work with the clients to bring them back into the fold and empower them to address situations that may have triggered them.
A lot of times that means bringing them back to their basics – we offer the counseling and groups virtually, so I’ll ask that they attend more groups, meet with me more often, and just let them know that they have support. I’m not here to judge them. I know that addiction is strong and powerful, that it is cunning and baffling. But they don’t need to feel shame. In me, they have someone who believes that they can succeed at sobriety and build the lives they want for themselves."
Still Sustaining: Fernando's Story
"Sometimes something good can come out of something bad – if not for the pandemic I don’t know if I would have found myself here with BRC. When the subways were shut down over night, I got caught out of a place to sleep. Since the start of the pandemic, I had been bouncing between staying with relatives and sleeping on the streets, and a couple of times I ended up spending the night in Central Park.
I had always had BRC in the back of my mind from when I saw them at the end of the line subway stations. But back in August – on one of the days where it was so hot that you’d start sweating as soon as you got outside– I saw two BRC outreach staff on 34th Street speaking with a lady sleeping on the sidewalk. They were calling her by her name like they took the time to get to know her, and I decided then and there to see if BRC could actually help me.
I went up to them, and within about two weeks BRC was able to get me a placement here in a stabilization room*, and I’ve been here for about three months. I feel like I’m one of the chosen ones. Before I came here, it was a full time job just to find food, a place to sleep, and try to keep clean. Now I know that I have a place to stay, so I can focus on getting myself right and on moving forward with my life.
I have qualifications. I have a driver’s license. I’ve been working my whole life, and have all kinds of experience. I had my own apartment for fifteen years before things started to fall apart for me. So I know that I can have a better life, and that this situation is temporary. BRC is helping me to get there.
There’s more to life than just surviving. We need other people. Even with COVID-19, we can take care of each other. I wear my mask out of respect for others, and out of love. We’re all in the same boat."
*Stabilization beds are short-term, low-demand units that provide an effective tool in helping particularly entrenched unsheltered homeless individuals come in from a life in the subway system. Learn more >>
Still Reaching Out: Chantelle's Story
"New York City has not stopped, when it comes to providing outreach to individuals experiencing homelessness. We haven’t shut our doors, and there are still options for clients who want to come inside.
The most important thing to do as an Outreach Specialist is to create trust and build rapport with an individual who is going through homelessness. They may have had traumatic experiences and have a hard time trusting, so we help and coach that person and help provide them with resources to get out of their current situation, into something that’s more suitable for their goals. We offer hope, and that hasn’t changed during the pandemic.
My first client after the start of the pandemic had been on the street for more than 8 years, and had never made contact with any agency because he told us that he wanted to do it on his own. But when the pandemic came he was afraid, he wanted to go into shelter but was concerned about COVID-19. Because of the trust and rapport we’ve built with him over time, our team was able to support him with a placement in a stabilization bed.
We have reached a balance as the pandemic has continued to go along, but like all New Yorkers we are now facing the “what if” of the coming winter months. While we don’t know what exactly to expect, we’ve been here and have been doing the work, so we know we will continue to do that.
For me, the reasons I do this haven’t changed. I enjoy meeting the clients, having empowering conversations with them, and then watching the clients take the next step. You’re working with someone who may have lost all their hope, and to see them regain their life from the moment of meeting them on- to see them get placed, and thank me, and let me know where they’re at - that’s my motivation."
*Stabilization beds are short-term, low-demand units that provide an effective tool in helping particularly entrenched unsheltered homeless individuals come in from a life in the subway system. Learn more >>
Still Building Stability: Quincy and Kimberly's Stories
"I was born in Mt. Vernon and I was raised in the Bronx. After my Mom passed in 2002, I had a rough time. I didn’t quite have the family support I needed, and had to go out on my own and eventually went into a shelter. It was an up and down experience, but about two years ago I met Miss Kimberly from BRC. She helps me with everything, from figuring out how to budget my money all the way to learning how to communicate and express myself.
When I met her, I was in a place where I was starting not to care about anything, about life itself. I had a lot of anger. One day, I was talking with Miss Kimberly and she told me she could help me with my anger problems. I didn’t believe it. But after a few months of seeing her, and having her come to see me, I realized that she was definitely for real. She’s came with respect and love. Now I look at her like she’s another mother. I trust Miss Kimberly 100%, no questions asked.
Since the coronavirus, they moved our shelter from Brooklyn to a hotel. It's okay, but it's hard not to be able to interact with people sometimes. I read my bible. I watch some tv. I take little walks. It's been good that I can still meet with Miss Kimberly while everything is going on.
The coronavirus has slowed everything down. I want to get back in school, to get my GED and work on math, science, and art. I make collages. But I’m working at one thing at a time, and housing is the first thing for me.
My housing application was just approved, so hopefully I can move into my own place soon. Miss Kimberly is still helping me, so I still have a positive outlook. I keep faith, and try to have understanding and respect. I’m not giving up."
"I'm a Care Coordinator with BRC's Care Coordination Program. When I first met Quincy, he was having was having trouble managing his anger and staying calm around his peers. But once I started to get to know him and to learn what was really going on, it became clear that he was really frustrated and felt like no one was listening to him. His way of getting people to pay attention to his needs was to act out and destroy things.
So that was the first thing I knew I had to do: listen. That’s how we were able to create a profession bond, by allowing him to talk, allowing him to express himself, being non-judgemental and reassuring. Living in shelter is not easy, and I knew I needed to take special time and energy to help Quincy understand his actions, to make sure he was going to all his appointments, and to work with his other service providers to help hm continue to push forward.
For example, I was able to connect him to BRC’s Fred Cooper Substance Abuse Services Center (SASC) and build a relationship with his substance abuse counselor, which helped him to get out of the shelter each day and be in a supportive environment. Quincy was very motivated, which is helpful. A lot of times clients want to help themselves, but they don’t know how to go about it. That’s something I can work with them on – I can guide them from “I don’t know how” to understanding how their actions can help them reach their goals.
We are here to do this work, even though the pandemic has had a significant impact on how we do the work. Because I can no longer do as much face-to-face interaction, I have to find other ways to stay connected to my clients. Before the pandemic I would do a home visit once or twice a month, but we’ve adapted and are doing check-ins over the phone or video call. It can be difficult because you can’t read facial cues, or assess the safety of their environments, over the phone.
But no matter what, I have to keep that one-on-one engagement. About 90% of my clients have pre-existing conditions, so we have to keep them as safe as possible. Our clients are still here, they still need our support, and they still matter. The work that we do It’s a calling, and a calling that we answer. This is not just a job for us, this is our passion."
Still Housed: Carmen's Story
"I moved into my apartment at Liberty Homes while I was 8 months pregnant, in the middle of a snowstorm that brought 24 inches of snow. I have three sons: twenty-one, fourteen, and nine years old. The youngest has grown up here. All of us have been isolating at home together since the start of the pandemic, and we have to be extra careful because the oldest and youngest are both high on the autistic spectrum and need special care.
Even though I haven't been able to work as a substitute special education teacher since the schools closed, BRC has been here to support me and to help my children with remote learning. It's been a challenge to help my fourteen year old with his online school work, but BRC has provided help with internet access and printing.
I help him, and he helps me to take care of his brothers. We are finding ways to stay safe and motivated. We spend a lot of time outside in the parks and community where we can stay distanced from people.
I love BRC because they give me the opportunity to make good choices. If you want to go to school, or take on some work that you like to do, they will help you. I have a degree in psychology and am working on my MA in special education so that I can get back to working with kids.
Life is all about choices. Every choice you make today is going to impact you three and five years from now. We all make mistakes, but you have to take responsibility and care for yourself. BRC makes sure that I have what I need to succeed, even now, so that I don't have to put off my goals. If we keep making good choices, we will get through this together."