Housing and Outreach Specialist Hilton Douglas provides an update on how street outreach has changed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Hilton is a Bronx native, who has worked for Urban Pathways for over 13 years. “I was initially hired as an Entitlement Specialist; I worked with homeless clients primarily to assist them in securing documents and benefits.”

“In 2010, I was promoted to Housing Specialist due to my experience with clients and housing. I helped place formerly homeless men and women into housing. Then I served as a Housing and Outreach Case Manager and more recently as a Housing and Outreach Specialist.”

“In the beginning stages of the city’s lockdown due to the coronavirus, homeless men and women were mainly continuing with their normal routines moving from place to place across the city and sleeping in parks and public areas. Now things have changed, since the beginning of April there are generally far fewer homeless people on the streets when we do outreach.”

Hilton, who works mainly in the Flatiron Business District, notes that from his experience individuals with substance abuse issues tend to be more transient, while those that have stayed stable on the street are generally people living with mental illness. “Many of the homeless who I would normally encounter during my outreach shift have moved on. Since NY on Pause, people are staying inside and there are less resources for people who panhandle.”

“The landscape for homeless outreach has changed due to the pandemic, but we still go out and engage the people we see, and the people who we know. Our outreach team wears masks, carries hand sanitizer, and stays a safe distance when interacting with our clients. We also provide masks to our clients for their own safety.”

“For those who are chronically resistant to services, we provide wellness checks to make sure those individuals are ok and not in need of emergency services. They need to know that we are out here to support them. It is reassuring to them.”

“What keeps me going every day is knowing that I have helped someone make that first move to better their life. I have one client I met on the street who is in his early 30s and was initially resistant to services. I engaged with him for two months until he decided to go to Urban Pathways’ Olivieri Drop-In Center in February. When I checked-in on him two weeks ago, I learned that he was transferred to a shelter and is working on his entitlements. That made my day!”


About Urban Pathways

Urban Pathways is a New York City-based, nonprofit organization that provides housing and support to homeless and at-risk adults throughout the Metropolitan area. Urban Pathways serves 3,700 homeless individuals a year and provides transitional, extended stay, and permanent housing to chronically homeless individuals.