Meet Hilton Douglas, a Housing & Outreach Specialist at Urban Pathways, the social services agency that offers housing assistance to individuals living without shelter in the neighborhood. “We applaud the BID for partnering with us in a way that is socially responsible,” says Hilton about the organization’s collaboration with the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership. “By working with Urban Pathways, they are not simply pushing out the very complex problem of homelessness as has happened in other cities, rather helping to create sustainable solutions.”
1. You’ve been part of Urban Pathways’ team in the Flatiron District for over a decade. Can you please provide more information about this partnership?
Urban Pathways’ partnership with the Flatiron BID is one of our best. The previous Executive Director, Jennifer Brown, was instrumental in ensuring that we began by having a shared understanding of what was required and necessary to be successful right from the start. Communication is key–we had initial meetings with the Flatiron BID and their Board of Directors who, from the beginning, were very involved and demonstrated that they cared about the neighborhood, its businesses, and what we do to assist the homeless population. We also are involved with the Homeless and Housing Committee of NYPD’s Midtown South Community Council and the Community Board.
Over the past 10 years, we have significantly reduced the number of homeless people in the Flatiron District by helping them get access to housing and services. One ongoing challenge is addressing the needs of the chronically resistant homeless. Scott Kimmins, the BID’s Director of Operations, works with our team daily and is very involved with helping this population.
2. What types of social services do you offer individuals, and what’s the goal of these services?
We canvass the neighborhood daily and offer services and support to the homeless. An important first step is developing trust. Then, the services that we provide depend on the needs of the individual.
Our goal as Outreach Workers is to move homeless men and women off the streets and into housing. At our Drop-In Center on West 30th Street, we provide meals, showers, and counseling–this can be a first step for someone to accept services and support. We also offer housing at our Safe Havens. If we have openings, we can provide a single or double room at one of our three Safe Havens, which are an alternative to the mainstream shelter system. Some individuals do not want to enter the shelter system, they just want to be housed.
One obstacle faced by many people who are homeless is that they do not have the documents they need to apply for permanent housing, such as a government issued ID and a social security card. Urban Pathways’ Case Managers help each client to attain the documents and entitlements needed to apply for housing.
The goal of our Outreach work is to move people off the streets and into transitional housing (Safe Havens). Once a person is housed and becomes acclimated to being indoors, they can work with an Urban Pathways’ Case Manager on their sobriety, hygiene, physical and mental health, and the development of social support networks. Our overall goal is to move people off the streets and ultimately into permanent housing where they can become self-sufficient.
3. How did you become an Outreach Specialist?
I have worked for Urban Pathways for 13 years now. I was initially hired as an Entitlement Specialist; I worked with homeless clients primarily to assist them in securing the documents, benefits and entitlements needed to attain housing.
In 2010, I was promoted to Housing Specialist due my breadth of experience with clients and housing. Then I was selected to serve as a Housing and Outreach Case Manager and more recently as a Housing and Outreach Specialist. I take pride in my work and in the relationships that I develop with our clients.
4. What is the most challenging part of your job? And the most gratifying?
The most challenging part of my job is engaging with someone who really needs help but who refuses the help and services that we are providing. The most gratifying thing about my job is seeing someone that I worked with get an apartment. It’s also really rewarding when someone I am working with moves into a Safe Haven or transitional setting. It’s just great to see someone turn their life around, and then often I see that they start helping others to do the same.
5. Can you share an example of a success story in which someone ultimately obtained permanent housing thanks to the services you provided?
I have a lot of examples. I have housed over 200 people since I have been employed at Urban Pathways. I worked with a woman in the Flatiron District who was very resistant. I placed her in temporary housing at Travelers Safe Haven on West 40th Street, and she now lives in permanent housing.
For a long time, I engaged a gentleman who would stay in the Flatiron area and never wanted to come inside. Over time, I developed his trust, he accepted services and was placed in Urban Pathways’ Hallet’s Cove Residence and he is now living independently in Queens.
6. What do you think is the most common misconception people have about New Yorkers living without shelter?
The most common misconception about people living without shelter is that it’s their fault. Many people assume that the person must have done something wrong to end up homeless. People make assumptions that homeless people are lazy, uneducated, and on drugs.
You would be surprised to see the number of homeless we engage with that have college degrees and have had jobs, unfortunately, they have also had a series of unfortunate events that have led them to being homeless. Often someone becomes homeless following the onset of mental illness.
7. What advice do you have for those interested in helping those living without shelter?
The advice I would give is not to give money directly to a person who is homeless. If you want to immediately help someone in need, give them food or clothing.You can also request Outreach Cards from Urban Pathways to give to the homeless (email your request for cards to firstname.lastname@example.org). These cards include resources and contact information for a wide range of services to help a person in need.
If you want to help homeless people over the long run, donate to nonprofits serving the homeless like Urban Pathways.
8. What future initiatives does the Urban Pathways Outreach Team have for the community?
Urban Pathways’ Outreach Team has done a lot of good work in the Flatiron area. Most homeless men and women in the area have been helped by Urban Pathways and many have been relocated to transitional or permanent housing. Things look a lot different than they did 10 years ago.
As we strive to provide comprehensive services to at-risk and homeless men and women, we develop on-going and lasting partners to assist us in serving our clients. Recently, we have begun partnering with Housing Works, located throughout New York City, to provide medical and psychiatric services to the men and women we serve. We also continue to work in collaboration with other Outreach Teams to provide a coordinated effort to move people off the streets and into shelters or housing.
9. What else do you think can be done to assist those in need?
Recently, we are seeing more younger homeless men and women who are abusing drugs. These individuals tend to be very resistant to help. I think we need more substance abuse programs and coordination between these programs and our Outreach efforts.
10. Finally, please choose three words to describe the Flatiron District.