A Code Blue Morning
The CUCS Street to Home program engages homeless adults on the streets of Manhattan, from 110th Street to the northern tip of the island, river to river, to help them move from life outdoors to housing.
It’s a cold January morning and the CUCS street outreach team has arrived at work at 5:30am. Temperatures have dropped below freezing overnight. It is a “Code Blue” morning.
During a Code Blue the street outreach team is charged with ensuring that the people sleeping on the streets are safe. They must get a verbal response from everyone they see.
“Morning guys. Sorry to wake you up. We’ve just got to do it because it’s so cold out. Can you just say something, let me know you’re all right?"
One of the first signs of hypothermia is the inability to speak clearly. If the team doesn’t get a verbal response then they have to assume the person is in danger and will call 911.
The team starts the morning at Park Avenue and 127th Street. Sleeping there is a gentleman they have been working with for a long time.
“I have a soft spot for him. He is having a hard time. He’s an older guy, blind in one eye with really bad legs. He laid the brand new jacket we gave him on his cart when he went to sleep. Somebody stole it.”
The very next day the team moved him into housing after years on the street. This was one of the first housing placements of 2016.
Next we headed south down Park Avenue. In addition to known areas, the team is always on alert for new places where homeless people sleep. We found one on 116th Street.
Three men were sleeping there. The men were at a shelter the night before. It did not go well. They were attacked by a group of seven other men and now they are afraid.
“I’ve only been working in the field for a couple of weeks and this is the second story I've heard where someone would rather be on the streets. In both cases they feel unsafe in the shelter."
At Riverside Church we met a man who the team had placed into housing in the Bronx. He was there for quite a while but he has a bad drinking problem and wandered off. Now he wants that bed back. The team is finding a way to help.
Around the block an elderly woman and a couple are sleeping.
“We’ve known "Riverside Grey' for years. She refuses services, doesn’t speak to us, doesn’t want help. But we always check on her, especially when the weather is cold."
The couple has a housing rental voucher. It can be difficult to find housing with a voucher but the couple thinks they are close. They refused the team’s help.
By this time the sun has risen and most people on the streets are up and have moved on.
For the rest of the day the team will help work with clients who come to CUCS’ East Harlem office, which may mean helping people who have lost all identification or are in crisis.
They also attend training sessions at the office so they can better serve clients.
On a great day, the program will help someone move into housing.
In 2015 the Street to Home program had 235 great days. 235 street homeless people moved into housing.
This is the Street to Home team’s work. It takes a lot of patience, compassion, and commitment.
Our mission at the Center for Urban Community Services|CUCS is to rebuild the lives of homeless and disadvantaged individuals and families. Each year more 50,000 people receive help from CUCS.
CUCS excels at providing integrated programs that link housing, health, and social services for New York City’s most vulnerable adults and children. Our programs help people exit from homelessness, rise above poverty, regain health and wellness, and rebuild their lives.
Story and photographs by Mary Taylor, CUCS Director of Development and Communications