City Commissioner Visits Brownsville Shelter To Explore Solutions


In a room at the end of the long hallway, a woman cooks ingredients on a hot plate as a group of children sit on red plastic chairs, their small hands making piles of green pepper, tomato, and onion.

It’s another day in the life at the Women In Need’s (WIN) Junius shelter, a seven-story, pink-beige building at 51 Junius Street in Brownsville. The shelter currently supports 420 homeless families of WIN’s close to 10,000 homeless women and their children they serve at various shelters citywide each year.

New York City Department of Youth and  Community Development (DYCD) Commissioner Bill Chong visited the facility this week to speak with WIN caseworkers and clients on any challenges that the city and DYCD could better address.

“[Before] we had 10, 20 programs in the same neighborhood they didn’t know they existed. They were like ships in the night,” said Chong. “We never functioned as one agency.”

New York City Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) Commissioner Bill Chong visits teh culinary class in the after school program.

Chong also came to get a first-hand look at the shelter’s School’s Out New York City (SONYC) program. The de Blasio Administration expanded the citywide after-school program into homeless shelters and non public schools in 2014 to make it more readily available to all middle school students, regardless of socio-economic status.

WIN Junius Shelter Director of Recreation Tamara Ortiz noted that children are considered clients as much as the mothers, and that having the children living in the shelter gives specific opportunities to design programs that are going to benefit them from the moment they step into the doors of a shelter.

As such, the programming offers an array of activities such as the Win Academy, an income building program, mentorship and recreation. The WIN SONYC program also offers STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), literacy, health, drama therapy, fitness, photography, sports, recreation and homework assistance.

Another important area that the group discussed was the ability of the city and organizations to support families and their children through the years, rather than letting them disappear after graduating from certain programs. Particularly important is the procedure for discharging families from shelters.

“When we discharge children [from SONYC] we discharge a whole family,” said Ortiz, reminding the group of the importance of consistent support. “So it’s not just one child leaving, it’s a whole group.”

The social workers and Chong also brainstormed about overcoming the difficulty of coordination between organizations and city agencies in varying boroughs, and agreed that a “discharge packet” should be provided to connect families with programs in their new neighborhoods, so that they were never without support. They also determined that each shelter should have a handbook and list of local programs, to better direct the families they serve.

“You’re building a life.” Chong said. “Once they complete one program, how can we build on the experience? In that past we never used to do that. It was one shot, you’re in and you’re out.”

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