Supportive housing groups in America are excited about a European model that helps young adults who lack peer or family support groups move into adulthood. Long-established in France, England and Ireland, foyers are beginning to open here.
The basic mission of a foyer is to provide at-risk 18- to 24-year-olds with transitional housing and supportive services. Foyers are a way "to help people who aren't ready to be on their own to develop the life skills, job skills and maturity to lead independent, successful lives," said Sister Paulette LoMonaco, executive director of New York City's Good Shepherd Services.
Teenagers who are homeless or who are aging-out of foster care are the primary groups foyers are targeting. "It's such an important need for all of us, having a safe place to live. Having support and some direction and training is vital to every single human being at that age," pointed out Mikkel Beckmen, a program officer for the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH).
CSH is a national group that works with other organizations to develop supportive housing and is a strong supporter of the foyer movement. In Minnesota, CSH helped the Salvation Army put together a development team to turn unused space in an existing building into 10 units of foyer housing, the nation's first.
In December, the first group of five residents moved in to the Booth Brown House Foyer in St. Paul. Because of an adjoining homeless facility serving 11- to 17-year-olds, Booth Brown lowered the age range the foyer serves. Residents must be 16 to 21 years old. "The overwhelming majority has lived in foster care, regardless of whether they came directly from there," said Corey Sentieri, program manager.
After screening out youth who are not suitable for the program, a case manager and the resident negotiate an action plan with five areas of goals: education, employment, financial, independent living skills and volunteer opportunities. This becomes a contract between the resident and the facility, and includes a 10-module system that the resident is tested on each month to achieve those goals.
The foyer is staffed at all times. When residents walk in, they're greeted at the front desk. Residents can then go to their efficiency units, each with its own kitchen and bathroom, or spend time in the common lounge area, computer lab, eating area or outdoor patio.
In the traditional foyer model, one-third of the residents have high needs, one-third medium needs and one-third low needs, but Sentieri said that they've taken in a much higher percentage of high-needs youth. Nonetheless, the heavy level of support needed in the beginning quickly drops, and the longer-term residents are now mentoring the new ones.
If residents have income, they pay 30% of it for rent. Usually residents have some form of government subsidy when they arrive. Some find jobs, while others continue their educations. Regardless of the path chosen, Sentieri said that "working with the kids at this age breaks the cycle" that would otherwise lead them to homelessness as adults.
Funding a foyer is a giant hurdle in most cases, but not for Booth Brown. One private donation covered the $850,000 rehab and what are projected to be the operating costs for two years. A small United Way donation augmented this.
Another foyer in New York City was scheduled to open first, but construction delays moved the expected opening to the end of February. The Chelsea Foyer is part of Common Ground Community's massive renovation of the residential annex of the McBurney YMCA.
When completed, Chelsea Residences will have 207 single-occupancy residences, 40 of which will constitute Chelsea Foyer. The foyer, with its own entrance and a private elevator, will take up a narrow area on five floors. On the first floor are staff offices and a large lounge, and each of the other floors has a four-bedroom suite with a kitchen and two shared bathrooms plus six single units with kitchenettes and bathrooms. Other common areas include a computer room, rehearsal room, multipurpose room, laundry room and TV room.
The Chelsea Foyer will also be staffed at all times. A dedicated case manager will negotiate an 18-month action plan for each resident, help the resident achieve the goals, and address whatever individual needs the resident has.
Common Ground, a major nonprofit provider of affordable supportive housing, is the facilities manager, but the units are leased to Good Shepherd Services (GSS), which has deep experience in youth development. Services will be more extensive, taking advantage of the broad offerings of both big city nonprofits as well as outside private and public agencies.
At press time, GSS was conducting an intensive intake process that involved a two-hour interview, a multi-page application, references, a physical, and mutual assessment. The target population is 18- to 24-year-olds who are homeless or coming out of foster care, ideally in school or working, said Yvonne Forbes, GSS program director.
Services are mainly funded through the federal McKinney-Vento program. Other sources include the city's Administration for Children's Supportive Independent Living Program, the New York City Department of Homeless Services, and welfare. Residents pay a program fee that will be given to them as a grant if they complete the program.
The total development cost for all units of the Chelsea Residences is $29 million. Funding includes $16.9 million from the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, $5 million from the New York State Homeless Assistance Program, $6.5 million in tax credit equity syndicated through MMA Financial, and $1 million from a Federal Home Loan Bank of New York Affordable Housing Program loan.