Photo: Tracey Rollins Spann, Vice President of Development and Communications Housing+ Solutions
NEW YORK - The Unification Theological Seminary (UTS) occupies most of the second floor in an eight-story building at 4W43rd Street in Manhattan. Unbeknownst to many, on floors 3-8 in the same building are three dozen other non-profit groups of various sizes and stripes with different purposes and “missions.”
UTS’s mission is in the education field. However, that does not limit students to academic study and the pursuit of theology and religion. Students will go on to participate in many aspects of public life, and the proximity of several non-profits in the building gives UTS students the opportunity to interact and become familiar with several models of public service.
There is a rich history of graduates from theological schools finding ways to put their faith into action, e.g., being responsible for building and maintaining schools, hospitals, soccer fields and playgrounds to fulfill the spiritual and physical needs of the communities in which they serve.
This week UTS News features one non-profit from the 4W43 building. Over the next few weeks, other groups will be highlighted, exploring the ways in which UTS - students and faculty - can interact with them for everyone’s benefit.
One flight up, on the third floor of the building, resides Housing + Solutions (H+S), a group dedicated to helping homeless women - either alone or with children - find permanent housing in New York City, with the majority living in Brooklyn where H+S’s main office is located.
The main proviso that separates Housing + Solutions from other groups is that they focus on finding homes before dealing with other issues that may arise, such as substance abuse and recovery, the criminal justice system, or, for military veterans (of which there are many), problems arising from the effects of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
“We are considered a ‘housing first’ organization,” said Tracey Rollins Spann, Vice President of Development and Communications, “which means that our goal is to get people into safe housing before we even address any of the [other] issues that they come to the table with.”
At present H+S has filled 120 housing units, with 30 more units expected to be available by late summer or early fall of 2017. Not all units are single dwelling, so a ‘unit’ could be a 2-3 bedroom home or apartment, greatly increasing the actual number of residents being served.
One of the things that makes us really proud is that 100% of our kids move on to the next grade,” said Rollins Spann. “That’s really huge, because a lot of times they’ve been jumping from school to school to school, depending on where they are living at the moment." Tracey Rollins Spann, Vice President of Development and Communications Housing+ Solutions
Employment services as well as health services are also available. With a grant that will extend over the next five years, the number of women and young adults with access to this service will gradually increase from 11 to 127 as the money becomes available.
Finding a home, however, is just the starting point. There is a strong emphasis on getting children into schools and providing a sense of continuity and community.
One of the things that makes us really proud is that 100% of our kids move on to the next grade. That’s really huge, because a lot of times they’ve been jumping from school to school to school, depending on where they are living at the moment."
“We also work really hard to get the tenants comfortable and used to community-based services. Because it is permanent housing, we want them to connect to services in the community and to feel they are part of something. We want them to feel this is their home.”
While grants from HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Development) and other government agencies - as well as private contributions - help to maintain a full-time staff of 25, there is still plenty of work that can be done by volunteers or students,
“For us, having people volunteer a couple of hours here and there can be really helpful,” explained Rollins Spann. “We look for ways to bring folks in who are willing to help us in ways that won’t cost us money. We don’t necessarily have the money for tutors, that’s where volunteers can help us. There are a variety of things we could come up with if folks are interested in helping.”