A Rejuvenated Tenant in a Renovated Hotel

We received the link to this wonderful article from Bob Guarasci of NJCDC.  It is a reminder of both the significant role that the homeless can and should play in ending homelessness and also the importance of street outreach in that cause. To read the full article click here. The following is a portion of the article.

The New York Times, September 1, 2007
A Rejuvenated Tenant in a Renovated Hotel, By JOHN ELIGON

Arthur Pass sat in the penthouse of a majestic building in Manhattan, his inner entrepreneur speaking volumes in the form of a shaven face, neatly combed hair, a deep, stately voice and crisp business attire.

A brief encounter with Mr. Pass would provide little evidence of the path he traveled to get there or why he is an ideal candidate to become one of the people Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is counting on starting today to combat the persistent problem of chronic homelessness.

Mr. Pass, 67, keeps a reminder of how far he has traveled in his pocket, a photo of a man with a bony face with gray stubble and eyes that gazed without a purpose.

“I feel that maybe what I went through had to be,” Mr. Pass said.

A stable middle-class home, a love for learning at a young age — they were not enough to keep Mr. Pass productively occupied. The first step toward combustion came at age 15, when he started drinking. That led to alcoholism, detention in juvenile facilities, a brazen attitude and, ultimately, the streets. A crack cocaine addiction, which came years later, only served to magnify Mr. Pass’s hopelessness.

By the time James McCloskey, an advocate for the homeless, first encountered him on the streets of Midtown, Mr. Pass was already past the breaking point: he had swollen legs that created an awkward gait, clothes that were dirty and fit poorly and out-of-date glasses that made him squint. He also had an arsenal of snide and cynical remarks, byproducts of his drug and alcohol abuse and attachment to street life.

Mr. McCloskey could not have envisioned the day he would be calling Mr. Pass his colleague. Mr. Pass certainly never saw it coming, either.

Things changed last year.

Mr. Pass, saying he was fed up with street life, checked into the detoxification center at St. Luke’s Hospital in Manhattan. It turned out to be more than just another one of Mr. Pass’s countless stints in rehabilitation. He said he has been alcohol- and drug-free since January of last year. More important, he has his first stable home in roughly 50 years.

Now, Mr. Pass is trying to do for others what Mr. McCloskey did for him. Mr. McCloskey is a director of a nonprofit agency called Common Ground Community, which seeks to house the homeless.

Over the past several weeks, Mr. Pass has been training with 56 others to become a counselor for Common Ground, which is expanding its efforts to get the most chronically homeless — people who have been on the street persistently and have shunned the city’s formal system to help the homeless — into permanent housing.

Mr. Pass was one of the program’s first clients. Although the number of single homeless adults in the city has decreased by 15 percent over the past two years, the population of homeless families reached its highest point in two decades in May, according to city statistics.

Common Ground tries to assist single homeless adults and had concentrated its work in Times Square and the surrounding area on the West Side. It canvasses the streets in the wee hours of the morning, documenting the homeless population and then trying to persuade those who spend the most time on the streets to seek permanent housing, even if they still have drug, alcohol or medical problems. Some of those involved in the issue of homelessness consider Common Ground a pioneer in this approach in the United States.

Critics say that this type of outreach program can be difficult because some homeless people are comfortable on the streets, the program does not focus enough on ending dangerous habits and does not address the growing problem of homeless families. And, they say, the goals might be too ambitious.

Mr. Pass, as much as anyone, understands the importance of a nice home.

Visiting the Prince George Hotel — an elegant early 20th century hotel on East 28th Street that sank into squalor and became the city’s largest welfare hotel and was later transformed into permanent residences for the homeless and low-income tenants — for the first time was a defining moment in his recovery, Mr. Pass said.

“Not in my wildest dreams did I ever believe I would be in a building like this,” said Mr. Pass, who got a tour from Common Ground in the spring of 2006 and moved in that fall. “I told them I didn’t want to go anywhere else. This was it.”

Mr. Pass lives on the 10th floor. Common Ground’s headquarters is in the penthouse.

The agency’s approach to tackling homelessness earned it one of four contracts issued by the city as part of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plan to drastically reduce homelessness by the end of 2009. Common Ground is expanding its efforts to other parts of Manhattan as well as to Brooklyn and Queens.

This aggressive outreach “focuses on accountability and results,” said Robert V. Hess, the commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services.

Dennis P. Culhane, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who specializes in homelessness and has worked as a consultant for the city, said housing chronically homeless single people should be a priority because they are the homeless who are most susceptible to injury and death. They are also the most tangible indicators of a city’s homelessness, he said.

“Their visibility tends to give people a sense that the problem is intractable,” Mr. Culhane said. “So demonstrating success with the most visible population is important for sustaining the political will to address the rest of the problem.”

These days, Mr. Pass is the type of visible figure that Common Ground is proud of. He is a poster child of sorts, one of the first clients of its chronic homelessness program to be employed as a counselor. He has gone from a sidewalk to a 10th-floor studio, from a wardrobe of rags to one of more than two dozen blazers.

“It really is the whole thing coming full circle that we have people like Arthur,” said Rosanne Haggerty, who founded Common Ground in 1990. “It’s the ultimate kind of proof that what we have needed here has been a culture change.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company