Gala Extravaganza 2019

The Bridge (3)

ESKW/Architects’ Randy Wood, Michael Ong, and Sunčica Jašarović at The Bridge’s Partners in Caring Awards Gala.

ESKW/Architects was pleased to attend several benefits the first week of June 2019, in support of the nonprofit organizations we’ve worked with for many years.

BRC

On June 3, the Bowery Residents’ Committee (BRC) held its annual The Way Home Gala to raise funding for its over 30 programs that help clients achieve their goals of managing mental illness, overcoming addiction, obtaining employment, and finding a place to call home. Over the last year, BRC has served 8,656 people, fielded 12,511 calls on its Homeless Helpline, and seen 5,386 clients successfully complete a program. We’re proud that Reaching New Heights Residence and The Apartments at Landing Road is a place they’re proud to call home.

The event honored Linda Gibbs, Partner at Bloomberg Associates and former NYC Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services, where she spearheaded major initiatives on poverty alleviation, juvenile justice reform, and obesity reduction. During her tenure from 2005-2013, NYC was the only top-20 city in the U.S. whose poverty rate did not increase while the national average rose 28%. Before that, she served as Commissioner of NYC Department of Homeless Services.

The benefit raised over $1 million and featured a performance from Broadway star Desi Oakley.

The Bridge

The following day on June 4, The Bridge celebrated its 65th anniversary at the Partners in Caring Awards Gala, where they honored Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.; Jonathan D. Resnick, a developer of affordable and supportive housing; and Dynamic Air Conditioning Company as a corporate partner.

The night’s program included a video package about clients and partners, as well as a speech from client Charles De San Pedro, Jr., who is now pursuing social service work after his own struggles living on the street. “Homelessness has really taught me to appreciate what I have,” he said.

The powerful story was a highlight of the night and nearly tear-inducing, said one of our team members who attended. “Those stories are always a great reminder of why we’re doing this work,” Sunčica Jašarović added. Last winter, ESKW/A celebrated the ribbon-cutting of East New York Avenue with The Bridge, and currently 3500 Park Avenue is under construction.

Project Renewal

Also on June 4, Project Renewal held its 2019 Benefit + Auction, which honored Jonathan F.P. Rose of Jonathan Rose Companies, a mission-focused real estate development, planning, and investment firm.

Table centerpieces featured lively plants reminiscent of green roofs in a nod to the development of Bedford Green House, which topped out earlier this year in March.

“Bedford Green House’s design was inspired by the idea of biophilia, that there’s an innate emotional affiliation between human beings and other living organisms,” Rose said. “Deeply integrating housing and nature, in the project’s front yard there will be a colorful community with jungle gyms, musical instruments, and water fountains, all of which will be accessible to both families that live there and the community. In the rear yard, there will be a beautiful landscaped area with space for yoga and exercise classes. And the pièce de résistance of this project, and the real vision of Project Renewal, is a rooftop greenhouse, which will be filled with nutritious produce, an innovative vertical farming system, and it will also raise fish, providing a whole symbiotic ecosystem.”

The event celebrated Project Renewal’s several workforce development programs, including the Next Step Internship and Culinary Arts Training programs. Diana Perez, a graduate of Next Step, told her story of overcoming addiction and homelessness to pursue a career as the director of a future Project Renewal program.

“When I went into rehab, I met a lot of good people that helped me stay on the right track, and I want to be that for other people,” she said. “I have big dreams of how I’d want to run something. I don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t for the Next Step program, because this is where I feel like I’m actually doing something that I love and I’m dedicated to. It’s honestly unbelievable that I’m here; three years ago, I would’ve never thought it was possible.”

Over 800 people attended the benefit, which raised over $1.6 million.

Settlement Housing Fund

Closing out the week on June 6 was SHF’s 2019 Annual Benefit commemorating its 50th anniversary with the theme: “Building Housing. Providing Opportunities. Improving Lives. Since 1969.” The event honored Alicia Glen, former Deputy Mayor of Housing and Economic Development for NYC; Anthony Richardson, Executive Vice President for Development of NYC Housing Development Corporation; and Charles S. Warren, Partner of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP.

We are proud to be part of their vast development portfolio dating back to the 1980s. “It is beautiful that SHF is celebrating 50 years of service to New York. We’re proud to have worked with them for close to 40 of those,” said Kimberly Murphy, Partner. “A professional highlight for me definitely includes working with them on New Settlement Community Campus. We’re constantly impressed with their innovation in development and dedication to the end goal.”

Fundraising events are not only important for the organizations’ missions, but they are a wonderful opportunity to connect with our development community and celebrate the great work that our clients provide to our fellow New Yorkers. We’re proud to continue this work into next year and beyond.

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Honor and Hope at the HSU Gala

This year’s Homeless Services United (HSU) Gala marked a record fundraising effort for HSU, and our very own Andrew Knox was among the event’s honorees. The April 18 event was held in Manhattan’s Prince George Ballroom, and its theme of “Elevating Voices, Driving Our Vision” echoed throughout the speeches of the three honorees.

IMG_1631As a result of the city’s Turning the Tide Against Homelessness plan, evictions are down 37% since 2013 and over 100,000 people have been able to overcome their housing crises and obtain or retain permanent housing, Trapani said. Since Commissioner Steven Banks took over the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) in 2014, roughly 40 new shelters have been set up, with 180 haphazard, sub-standard sites shutting down.

Events like the HSU Gala ensure that nonprofits can continue their work of providing a continuum of services, quality programming, and coordinated care to those affected by the homelessness crisis.

Accepting the Sr. Barbara Lenniger Legacy Award, founding HSU Board Member Colleen Jackson said the night’s theme of “Elevating Voices” was why organizations like HSU exist. “We’ve tried to give people and organizations large and small a voice to demand an end to destructive and cruel city policies,” she said, noting her work as the former Executive Director and CEO of West End Residences, with whom we’ve worked on two True Colors Residence projects.

 

Jody Rudin, COO of Project Renewal, introduced Andrew, explaining a bit about his first career choice. “Andrew was once an aspiring actor, but he said his character was usually shot by the second act—thankfully for us,” she said. “Because he’s gone on to have a string of blockbuster successes as an architect. Thank you for spending your second act with us.

“This isn’t a little gold man, but it is our version of the Oscars,” Rudin added, bringing Andrew to the stage where images of his ESKW/Architects work were projected above.

In his speech, Andrew illustrated architecture’s role in addressing the homelessness crisis. “I take great pleasure in working with clients to learn what makes an optimal layout of a dorm room, so that there are always two paths to the bathroom and two paths to the front door so residents living there never feel trapped. I take great pleasure in being told by a resident during a walkthrough how happy they are to have a washer and dryer in their dorm so they can step away for a minute and not be worried that their favorite jeans are going to disappear. I take great interest to learn from a resident that the bang of the entrance door every 30 minutes during nightly check-ins triggers their memories of being at Rikers, and so the next time, we’re going to ask our clients to go that extra mile and put in door closers that go click rather than spring hinges that go slam.”

 

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He also brought up a memory from school that has continually inspired his work. “Never underestimate the impact of a teacher. As an undergraduate student at Penn, I used to give my landscape architect professor grief for using examples of her work from private estates. At one point, she sort of burst out at me in anger, or I guess irritation, I should say. ‘The trouble with bright students like you is that you talk this progressive talk in school, and then when you graduate, you move to Texas and build McMansions for millionaires.’ That sunk in, and 30 years ago when I came to this city, I decided to try to honor that challenge.”

Andrew’s speech was a tough act to follow, but the evening’s third honoree, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., naturally did an excellent job. “It sounds like you’ve been practicing that Academy Award speech, Andrew,” he joked.

 

“Tonight has an important theme of elevating voices, but we also need to open our hearts,” he continued. “You can’t go to church and say you’re your brother’s keeper and then go to a community board and say you don’t want shelters or affordable housing in your neighborhood. I want to still offer this city’s hope and opportunity to everyone.”

The night’s truly awe-inspiring speeches (excepting the unofficial roasts of Andrew) will continue to inform and motivate our work. Thanks again to HSU for allowing us to be a part of it all.

 

Extending The Bridge at the Partners in Caring Awards Gala

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ESKW/A team members mingle before the evening’s program begins.

On June 6, The Bridge held its 2018 Partners in Caring Awards Gala. In celebrating the organization’s work, two individuals were honored with awards, and funds were raised to bring help, hope, and opportunity to thousands of New Yorkers.

Cynthia C. Wainright, president of The Bridge’s board of directors, opened with remarks noting the agency’s 64 years of service. Currently, it houses 1,385 individuals from vulnerable populations in 24 buildings, two shelters, and over 500 apartments throughout the five boroughs.

“And next month, we will open a 66-unit residence on Maple Street in Brooklyn, which will support another 50 adults with serious mental illness and provide 16 affordable housing units for families,” Wainright added.

Wainright was referring to our East New York Avenue project with The Bridge. “No pressure,” one of our team members teased the project manager. The building is rapidly nearing completion.

An incredibly moving video showed Bridge clients living in their spaces and participating in programming that includes art therapy, horticulture therapy, and Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) sessions. Residents marveled at how now they simply feel free and safe in their new homes. A service staff member encouraged them that this is not their last step either, as many clients have transitioned through Bridge shelters and programs to permanent housing. The video closed with the poem “Myself” by Edgar Guest.

“The stories were tear-jerking,” said Sunčića Jašarović, one of our architectural designers. “What a wonderful organization.”

After the video, a client named Gregory spoke about his success story. Having spent 15 years with The Bridge, he has earned his GED, begun a career in maintenance at Bellevue Hospital, and become a U.S. Citizen.

mike and east ny brightest

Mike Ong, project manager on East New York Avenue (somewhat seen behind him).

“I try to achieve in life,” Gregory said. “If I didn’t believe in achieving, I wouldn’t have come this far.”

The Curtis Berger Award was given to Gary Hattem, an advisor to nonprofit organizations. His work with banks, trusts, and foundations has helped make The Bridge’s work possible.

“Society has experienced a loss of social cohesion and what holds us together, but The Bridge brings everyone together in a common cause, in a feeling of unity and purpose,” Hattem said. “Everyone has a place in New York City. Everyone has an opportunity.”

The Partner in Caring Inspiration Award went to Leslie Jamison, an author, instructor at Columbia, and graduate of Harvard as well as the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her writing details her own battles with addiction and her journey to recovery. Guests received a hardcover of her most recent work, The Recovering. (And a tote bag. And a potted plant centerpiece, if they desired.)

“I found kindred spirits in the people who work at The Bridge,” Jamison said. “When I was fighting my addiction, I had access to all the resources—good doctors and therapists, a recovery community, supportive friends and family—that could help me recover. But many of The Bridge’s clients don’t have these resources available to them. The Bridge gives them access to all kinds of support they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

The night was an awe-inspiring celebration of the work the agency, architects, developers, and other groups have done—and a dynamic urge for the work to continue.

“The most important part of our work is that we are making it possible for people living in shelters, on the street, or in psychiatric hospitals to move into safe and affordable housing—fully furnished and equipped—so they can get their lives back on track. It’s a very tangible impact,” Carole Gordon, senior vice president for housing development at The Bridge, told us after the event. “The gala brought together people from so many walks of life. Hopefully they left with a good feeling and want to continue to support us in whatever way they can.”

If the donation thermometer is any indicator (it surpassed the $20,000 goal within minutes and was still rising as we left), then these efforts are sure to continue. And if this photo booth flip book is another indicator, then it’s a safe bet that people walked away with good feelings too.

NYLON #13: Homelessness in New York and London

By Kimberly Murphy, AIA

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On May 31, 2018, I attended the Urban Design Forum’s 13th session of NYLON at the Center for Architecture. The series brings together experts from New York and London to discuss shared issues facing our cities and to have an open exchange of ideas and conversation. Architects were joined by city agency officials, non-profit organizations, and other experts in conversations ranging from safer streets to affordable housing and homelessness.

It was fun to have our colleagues from “across the pond” share their experiences, struggles, and successes via Skype. The numbers vary, and programs have different names, but the bottom line is that affordability is dwindling in both cities, which leads to structural increases in homelessness. Structural causes for homelessness are those not related to behavior and include landlord policies and loss of stable housing. Joslyn Carter, administrator of the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS), spoke about how the number of children and families in temporary housing has been rising. Rents have increased exponentially higher than incomes have, and working families cannot keep up.

So what is being done? Alice Brownfield, director of Peter Barber Architects in the U.K., shared several remarkable projects that included shelters and supportive housing. Their work is impressive and speaks to a scale of “home” that many urban dwellers don’t experience. It’s interesting to me that there was such low density in some of the projects, whereas much of our work in NYC is based on high-density city conditions and providing up to 200 beds (max) in a facility. The “cottage” feel of their Holmes Road Studios is very appealing. I also appreciate their embrace of brick masonry as a material.

Holmes-road---Elevation

Credit: Peter Barber Architects (found via http://www.peterbarberarchitects.com/holmes-road-studios)

Common threads in the work were dignity of space, welcoming and bright entrances, and common areas that encourage socialization. Basic needs like security and high-quality programming were also core contributors to success.

Jonathan Marvel, of Marvel Architects, spoke about his firm’s work in evaluating the Belleview Men’s Shelter, which houses nearly 800 single men. From their studies, clients and program providers indicated that security, dignity, services, and community are  the top of values and issues related to shelters. Jennifer Travassos, head of prevention and commissioning for Westminster Council, referred to coming home and relaxing in your jammies as a practice not available to the homeless. I found that to be a great, humanizing reference that those with homes take for granted as a contributor to mental health and life in general.

We were especially interested in this discussion since our Landing Road (aka Reaching New Heights Residence) project for BRC enjoyed its ribbon-cutting ceremony earlier this month. In an innovative funding model, non-profit shelter provider BRC developed a 200-bed shelter on the lower levels of the building which funds 135 units of affordable housing on the upper levels. The project marks the first new construction of a NYC shelter in 25 years and serves as a model for financing much-needed permanent housing.

“Our HomeStretch Housing pilot—Landing Road—provides beautiful, high-quality affordable housing  to the low-income individuals BRC assists in our shelters,” said Muzzy Rosenblatt, president and CEO of BRC. “Through BRC’s The Way Home Fund, we plan to kickstart the development of a pipeline of projects that will replicate the success of Landing Road and ultimately create thousands of units of low-income housing, help the city decrease the size of the shelter system, and close down decaying and unsafe facilities.”

To connect back to what’s being done to improve NYC shelters, the Urban Design Forum sent their Forefront Fellows to Landing Road the morning following the ribbon-cutting as part of DHS’s Conscious Shelter Design initiative. The fellows were touring 15 different sites (including Project Renewal’s Ana’s Place) to develop guidelines for shelter providers that focus on maintenance, accessibility, landscape, and space utilization, among others. The architects, building owners, and program directors provided a tour and answered the fellows’ questions. It was interesting to speak of the design and programming of the Reaching New Heights Residence in the context of the previous morning’s seminar and comparisons to challenges and solutions in London. Issues related to entry, security, wayfinding, maintenance, and connection to nature all resonated. We were pleased to assist in the research and look forward to contributing further. The goal of DHS to become obsolete is a lofty one, and until it becomes a reality, we appreciate their efforts in making shelters places of welcoming and security.

Shelter Skelter: A Presentation by Bronx High School Students on Homelessness in NYC

ESKW_Shelter Skelter

Marcella, Martin, and Melissa of ESKW/A

Our recently completed 4380 Bronx Boulevard along with current shelter projects at 233 Landing Road, 2570 Fulton, 91 Pitt, 149 W 132, and 8 E 3rd Street, have us thinking about the public perception of shelters and the homeless.  Last Wednesday several of us from ESKW/A trouped up to the Bronx Museum to attend and show support for a student presentation on the culmination of a summer spent investigating the ins and outs of the shelter system in NYC.  CUP, the Center for Urban Pedagogy, and the College Now program of Hostos Community College brought in teaching artist Patrick Rowe to work with the teens throughout the project and teach them to funnel their newfound knowledge into a visual form (poster shown below).

The students conducted numerous interviews with city council members, the NYC Department of Homeless Services, community board members, and individuals directly associated with local shelters.  They also visited a non-profit shelter as well as Picture the Homeless and garnered a better understanding of the system as seen from the inside.

In the resultant presentation, the class was careful to show both sides of the arguments for and against the types and locations of shelters.  Many members of the audience were surprised to learn that shelters are not evenly distributed over the boroughs but rather are quite concentrated in the Bronx.

“We like to keep families applying to shelters close to their support systems, their children’s school, and to their last known address,” said Lisa Black of the NYC Department of Homeless Services.  Even with the large number of shelters within the borough, however, they fill up and people can sometimes be relocated across the city.  As one student explained, “Let’s say you’re from here [the Bronx], but let’s say all the shelters in the Bronx are full—then they will end up moving to the next closest shelters, which could be in Brooklyn or could be far away, like Staten Island.  From that standpoint, you’re taking me away from my home, from people I grew up with, where I’m very comfortable.”

ESKW Shelter Skelter

The Shelter Skelter poster

No discussion of the shelter system can go without touching on the concept of NIMBY, and the class addressed this as well.  In his interview with the students, Sam Miller of Picture the Homeless explained, “The Bronx is one of the areas that sends the most families into the shelter system.  Many times when communities in the Bronx oppose a shelter, they’re opposed to their own neighbors who’ve been driven out by rising rents.”

It was gratifying to hear that on an individual level many of the students felt that their eyes had been opened and their assumptions challenged.  As one teen told the audience:

“We were asked the question, ‘Who do you think these people are?  Where do you think they come from?’ and unfortunately I had a very low opinion of them.  To be honest, the only homeless people I saw were basically crazy people, drunks, drug addicts, people that didn’t really cause me to think about this issue.  But as the program went on and as we did our visits, and especially when we went to meet some people from Picture the Homeless, they opened my eyes.  Talking to one of the men there taught me through the way that he spoke that not all homeless people are drug addicts, etc.  I hope one day to be as smart as him.”

Her sentiment was common amongst her classmates, many of whom echoed the assertion that their preconceived notions about the system and especially the shelter inhabitants had been turned around.  These students will undoubtedly continue to spread their new knowledge within their neighborhoods, raising awareness and altering the prejudices of those around them.  The presentation focused on a serious problem faced by our community, but thanks to the students’ enthusiasm the tone of the evening was distinctly hopeful.