David Anderson’s graduate thesis was a harbinger of a meaningful career to come. It argued that if the homeless were given proper resources, they would not remain displaced over the long term.

As the recently promoted Social Services Supervisor at Urban Pathways’ scattered-site housing programs, David works at the satellite office at 975 Kelly Street in the Bronx, overseeing six Case Managers who work with ninety clients living in apartments throughout the City. The number of clients in his program was doubled from 45, when expanded funding from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) allowed Urban Pathways to enroll additional formerly-homeless adults in this program.

David spearheaded this process, interviewing prospective clients — over Zoom, due to COVID-19 restrictions — to determine if they would be successful in this type of program. The criteria: a mental health diagnosis and/or a substance-use disorder, as well as the ability to live with minimal supervision — which is the philosophy behind scattered-site housing. “I look for goal-oriented clients,” says David. “If you dream of performing in the circus, let me know so we can figure out how to get you there.”

This past fall, David was promoted from Program Coordinator at JISH (Justice Involved Supportive Housing: a program that provides funding to scattered site and congregate housing for homeless individuals who have histories of cycling through the criminal justice system) to his current role as Social Services Supervisor. His primary job is to help clients acclimate to their neighborhood and community.

“Our clients in this program are spread out across the City. Before COVID, I liked to go out into the field and interact with them.”

Along with building that relationship with clients, David also likes building relationships with the Case Managers he supervises. “For me, when I meet with my Case Managers, I like to build a safe space for us to have conversations about how they are doing personally, how their clients are doing, and together, how can we improve the client’s stay with Urban Pathways.”

To meet the challenges of the COVID-19 era, David and his team went into overdrive. Instead of meeting with clients in person twice a month, they decided to touch base with clients weekly via FaceTime, Zoom, and phone calls. This proved challenging, since not every client was initially eager to speak with their Case Managers through these methods. The Social Services team devised a rotating wellness team, comprised of staff members who, wearing PPE, agree to enter clients’ apartments for wellness checks.

Clients throughout Urban Pathways’ housing programs have struggled with many things this year—isolation, heightened mental-health issues, virus-driven anxiety, the passing of fellow residents—and are appreciative of staff efforts to ameliorate these difficulties. But, according to David, the 45 new clients recently absorbed into his scattered-site program are grateful above all for the shelter afforded them during NYC’s most grueling year in living memory. “They’re amazed that we took them in during this time, when most programs were closing their doors,” he says.

David feels that his perception of his clients is so simple as to be inarguable, yet still difficult for some to absorb. “I want to shout from the mountaintops: our clients matter,” he says.

“Our clients deserve a chance. They don’t want to be homeless.”

He mentions a man he knows with a master’s degree in Shakespearean studies, a man of erudition and achievement felled by a traumatic incident that caused him to become homeless. “Each of our clients is someone’s grandkid, brother, sister, or parent,” says David.

“Each was once someone’s child, cherished for their innocence and humanity and boundless potential.”

They deserve to be cherished again.

By Urban Pathways on February 18, 2021