The Magazine of Community Access
East 172nd Street: Our Largest Building to Date â€“ NOW OPEN How Am I Doing? Making a Difference at East Village Access
C magazine is one of many ways that we share news of what we do with our ever growing community of supporters, and we have a lot of good news to share! Our real estate development is proceeding at a pace we have not seen for a while. East 172nd Street opened its doors in July, and we have 825 units in our development pipeline, as sole developer or in partnership with likeminded groups working to end homelessness in New York City. Sometimes during the course of my work, I hear people say things that make so much sense that they take root in my mind. That happened a few years ago at the World Hearing Voices Congress, when someone speaking about the experience of hopelessness noted that the opposite of hopelessness is not hope, rather it is the experience of connection. Since then, I have often thought about that insight and its relevance to our work at Community Access. Everything that we do aspires to build on the healing power of connection – human, animal, plant. Many of the people we serve have had life experiences that have led them to places of hopelessness. Our housing creates communities where people living with mental health concerns can form connections that will sustain them as they recover from the trauma and discrimination of homelessness and stigma. All of our services – from job training, to treatment, to crisis supports, supported education, our health and wellness initiatives, and our growing number of mobile teams – are successful because of the authentic connections they build with people, creating environments where human rights and human dignity are core values. I am happy to share that Community Access is launching our Campaign for Connection with the help of Dascha Polanco, John Turturro, and Dan Wurtzel. We are grateful for their leadership and to you for helping us be a place where connection allows for so many life-changing experiences and opportunities in people’s lives.
Chief Executive Officer
C Magazine Credits
Community Access Senior Management
Editor: Jon Curtis, Director of Communications Copy Editor: Billy Glidden, Senior Communications Associate Featured Photography: Sean Sime and (p.14-15 EVA profile) Carlos Alayo Interns: Aleeza Schoenberg, Emma Rafter
Cal Hedigan, Chief Executive Officer Michelle Des Roches, Chief Program Officer – Housing Christopher Lacovara, Chief Financial Officer and General Counsel Alysia Pascaris, Chief Program Officer – Non-Housing John Williams, Chief Development and Communications Officer Morenike Williams, Chief People Officer
Many thanks to all the Community Access staff members, tenants, and program participants who also made this issue possible. 17 Battery Place, Suite 1326 New York, NY 10004
Board of Directors Stephen H. Chase, President Dan Wurtzel, Vice President
Ramesh Shah, Treasurer Mary Massimo, Ph.D., Secretary
Elise Chowdhry, Mary D’Souza, Martha Dabagian, Theodore Francavilla, Laura Gould, LCSW, Dr. Cynthia B. Green, Diane Louard-Michel, Barbara Malatesta, Adil Nathani, Catherine Patsos, David Segura, Bradley Soto, Jose Vazquez Strategic Advisors to the Board: David Kuperberg, Anastasia P. Vournas
Our $52 million development for 125 households at East 172nd Street opened in the summer of 2019
Five years ago, we announced a goal to develop 1,000 new units of affordable housing. Now we can report: this goal has been 95% met. In a time of increasing competition for sites from a broad range of developers, it was an ambitious goal. But with incredible supporters and partners – and our commitment to being part of the solution to ending homelessness in NYC – we’re almost there! (In this issue, see the beautiful buildings we have in the works, and meet some of the tenants now calling Community Access “home.”)
It’s no small thing launching a new film festival, but we like a challenge – and believe in the power of storytelling to advance how we think and talk about mental health. With generous support from the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, the Isora Foundation, and Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation,
our Changing Minds Young Filmmaker Festival showcases mental health stories for and by young people – and introduces a whole lot of local talent. Brooklyn high schooler Daphne Parkhill, for example, was just 16 when she made the featured Changing Minds film Pigeon-Holed, an exploration of the effects that labels have on queer youth. “I wanted to give a voice to teens figuring out their identities in a world that wants to box them in,” says Daphne. We’re inspired to follow her lead.
At Community Access, Health
and Wellness activities bring people together in all sorts of ways. With countless factors influencing our physical and mental well-being, we work to create opportunities for people to come together around growing food, meal preparation, movement, and stress reduction – anything with the potential to positively impact quality of life. And we have a good time! Our annual Wellness Walking Challenge gets us counting steps in a friendly competition. Regular group bike rides on Governor’s Island are a great way to get moving together. Tenants routinely share community meals in their buildings, featuring seasonal produce, and participate in farmers’ markets and our own annual Harvest Festival. Over at our Tinton Avenue location, meanwhile, a chicken coop will soon become a new source of local pride. (And eggs.)
Here’s something we do that you may not know about. Since 2016,
we’ve had occupational therapy student interns in our programs, in collaboration with Columbia University, New York University, the University of Southern California, and Mercy College. Occupational therapists work with people on the necessary and meaningful activities of their daily lives – which might include things like stress management, developing computer skills, or preparing meals. Our occupational therapy interns teach tenants new skills, or help tenants make adjustments to their environment as needed – it’s up to the tenants themselves. So far, among many other things, interns have held cooking and smoothie-making groups, created a how-to guide for tenants learning how to access benefits online, and taken tenants on “morning adventure” walks.
A Te nant ’s Jo By B ur ne illy G y to Her lidd en New Hom e
ntil this past July, Crystal Gonzalez, age 30, had never had her own apartment. For years, she spent most of her nights in shelters, tents, or hospitals, and occasionally on friends’ couches. Stays at her mom’s apartment, for various reasons, were always short-lived.
But within days of moving into her new place, in one of the 125 units in Community Access’ new building in the Bronx, she’d made it all her own. “When I walked in, I thought This is going to be my home,” she says. “I wanted people to get a feel for who I am.”
Framed photographs of friends and family sit on the window sills. She’s got a purple loveseat against one wall, and her bed, elevated slightly upon a white frame, against the other. A stack of books, including the one she’s reading now, by Edgar Allan Poe, rests bedside. Behind her TV she’s mounted a poster of Marilyn Monroe. On her refrigerator, on a white board magnet, she’s written a quotation, taken from her favorite film, in marker: “You have to do everything you can, you have to work your hardest and if you stay positive, you have a shot at a silver lining.” It’s a line from Silver Linings Playbook, in which Bradley Cooper plays a man trying to rebuild his life after a severe mental health crisis.
Crystal with fellow East 172nd Street tenants (l to r) Fabio, Eugene, Terrance, Osvaldo, and Diana
Crystal is a creative soul. Growing up, she was often the one who entertained the rest of her family with her singing and dancing. In describing her life, she often uses metaphors of art and performance. “Your world is your stage,” she says. “Think of a tap dancer. Or a writer. You have to live according to what you want your readers to read. Your life is your message.” Crystal’s life began in difficulty. Born three-months premature to a mother with a substance use disorder, she spent the first month of her life under constant medical supervision. Many people coming through Community Access’ doors have had experience with navigating systems of the state; for Crystal, this process began immediately upon entering the world. Once her condition had stabilized, she was taken into state care, and went to live with a foster mother in the Bronx. “The effects this has on a kid,” she says, “are profound. It’s still hard for me to connect with people, and with the world around me.”
Joey, Crystal, and Shavalise, who met at the Hoboken Shelter, together at East 172nd Street
At age two, Crystal was legally adopted by her foster mother, the only mom she knows. “My mom is an angel, a miracle,” she says. Crystal recalls much of her childhood with great fondness: bunking up with her siblings, going Christmas shopping, vacationing in Puerto Rico. But the onset of her mental health struggles appeared early, and would persist for years to come. “I became very bad tempered,” she says. “I had outbursts. It really hindered my relationships with my family, especially my mom.” Crystal’s first mental health-related hospitalization happened before age ten. By her teenage years, she had received multiple diagnoses. “There were days when I wouldn’t get up,” she says. “I would lay sprawled on my bed, unable to move, unable to breathe.” She spent time alone as often as she could. She didn’t feel that she fit in with kids at her school. She was bullied. To cope, she created imaginary worlds in her head, a refuge from the world that could feel so unwelcoming. “My mom wanted to help me,” she says, “but we weren’t seeing eye to eye. My depression
“Community Access is a haven for people. You don’t have to go through stuff alone when you have Community Access.”
Crystal with CA staff member Angie Medina
was putting her health at risk.” Something had to change. She went to live with some relatives in New Hampshire for a short while, and stayed briefly at a friend’s house. She sporadically tried living with her mom again, but it never worked out. She wound up at the Hoboken Shelter in New Jersey. Crystal’s experience of homelessness was often difficult. She feels the injustice of it. But she refuses to fit her story into a neat, easily digestible narrative. “You know that Ashanti song Rose that Grew from Concrete? That’s how I feel,” she says. “I got to see a world. I got to meet people, to be in different cities. To feel alive.” All the while, she tried to make life easier for the people she met along the way. I got a chance to talk to Crystal’s friend Shavalise, a young woman who, along with her boyfriend Joey, met Crystal at the Hoboken Shelter. The three grew very close. On nights when there were no beds available, they found shelter together, sleeping in a tent or out in a skate park. Shavalise firmly believes that meeting Crystal changed the course of her life. “The day I met Crystal, she just came up and sat next to me,” Shavalise tells me. “She said things that hit
the main points of why I felt the way I did. She got my faith up. She started singing to me” – a gospel song, Shavalise remembers – “and it was like God put us there.” Crystal, Joey, and Shavalise have remained in touch ever since, now going on three years. Crystal eventually left New Jersey, making her way to Susan’s Place, a New York City shelter for women. There, she connected with Community Access’ Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team, which was able to build a trusting relationship with Crystal and help her find housing in our new building on East 172nd Street. “Community Access is a haven for people,” she says. “You don’t have to go through stuff alone when you have Community Access.”
The first time I visit Crystal’s new apartment is on an overcast July day, just weeks after her move-in. Our photographer Sean has come along to take photos for this issue of C magazine. Angie Medina, a member of Crystal’s ACT team, answers the door. Right away, I’m struck by the feeling that life is happening here.
“Not everything is etched in stone. Not everything is for sure. You’ve got to have faith.”
There’s Shavalise, at the stove, making some hot cocoa. (The hot cocoa plan turns out to be a bust, the result of milk gone bad.) There’s Joey, sitting at the kitchen table. And there’s Crystal, dressed up for her big photo shoot. You can’t help but feel excited to be here. For the friends, it’s a milestone of their shared history. For Crystal, it’s a celebration of a personal triumph. As Crystal poses for photos, Shavalise plays the overzealous mother on prom night. “My baby is all grown up!” Laughter fills the room. I ask her friends how they feel seeing Crystal in her new place. “She gives me hope,” says Joey. “Look at her now. Just look at her.” When I return a week later, Crystal is settling into a routine. She loves the building. “I’m very blessed to have something I can call my own, something new and beautiful,” she says. “The staff here has put a lot of work into this building.” She mentions the computer room, the laundry room, the community spaces, the outdoor patios. She’s especially excited for the bike room – “I plan to get me a bike” – and
the urban farm. She mentions Ana Morán, the Community Food Coordinator at Community Access. “We’re going to be planting some good grub, and we’ll be able to make salads.” Crystal has goals. She wants to write a book about her experiences. She plans to enroll in Community Access’ Howie the Harp job training program, and to become a peer counselor. In six months, she’d like to get a Pet Access dog. She’s currently planning a mindfulness group for her fellow tenants. She also wants to reconnect with loved ones. “I want to love on my family, and go out with friends,” she says. “I want to spend time with my mom.” Before we wrap up our conversation, I ask if there’s anything else she’d like readers to know. She thinks for a moment, and says, “Not everything is etched in stone. Not everything is for sure. You’ve got to have faith. It’s what keeps you when you are in dark places, and when you are in valleys, and when you are in loss.” She pauses again, before adding, “I’m so blessed.” That’s the note she chooses to close on, to share with me, to share with us: a note of encouragement, and of gratitude. She has lived to an understanding of life that she now wants to share – through acts of creation and kindness, through her future work as a peer counselor, through the book she will one day write. She sees the totality of her life as a great gift, and this new chapter, in her new home, as the continuation of an ongoing adventure. She knows there’s more work to do. But when she takes a step back, she can see how all of it, every experience, hangs together: a work of art. Her life is her message. ◊
…for new East 172nd Street tenants *
Where did you live before moving in? In transitional housing on the Lower East Side. How do you like your new place? Very nice—it’s brand new! New elevators… plants everywhere… people. It’s so nice.
Diana ( + Chico!)
Where did you live before moving in? I was in Community Access’ Treatment Apartment Program, in Inwood, Manhattan – and before that in the shelter system.
Best thing about NYC? There’s always something to do here. I like being sociable. I like action – the tall buildings, the bridges, the taxis, people walking everywhere, so much movement. The chaotic excitement!
How do you like your new place? I love it, I love it, I love it. I can do whatever I want – and there’s an elevator, so I don’t have to walk up four flights anymore! And my two cats go running around anywhere they want. This is a nice building. I’m at peace, and so are my cats.
Favorite food? I like to eat healthy: turkey—with brown rice, coleslaw, and a bottle of water.
Somewhere you’d love to visit? I was born in Puerto Rico and that’s where I would like to go. Favorite sports team? I like boxing. Mike Tyson was one of my favorites.
Where did you live before moving in? I was in the shelter – a transitional mental health facility. How do you like your new place? This is a nice building. Good air conditioning! Favorite sports team? For football, it’d have to be the Patriots. Basketball: the Lakers. I’ve always liked those teams, and I don’t switch. Most people change; I do not. Somewhere you’d love to visit? Hmm. A series of visits to the Bahamas, Hawaii, Malibu, Madagascar, Ireland, Paris, Australia, England, and Nigeria. And Virginia.
Where did you live before moving in? Bronx Psychiatric Center for about six months. I was living in the Bronx before that too. How do you like your new place? I love it! I enjoy it – it’s a palace. I feel like I live in the penthouse. Worst thing about NYC? Cigarettes are so expensive. Favorite food? Sushi. Spicy tuna, spicy salmon, and eel with avocado.
Where did you live before moving in? I was in Bronx Psychiatric Center. All in one year, I lost my mother, my father, my sister, two brothers, my job of 27 years, and my apartment. That was just too much – I just collapsed. How do you like your new place? It’s beautiful, and there’s so much to do here. There’s going to be a gym downstairs, which you know I’m going to be in every day. And there will be a little farm – I’m looking forward to that! I feel very lucky. I’m getting a little bit better day by day. Best thing about NYC? I like city lights at night time. How do you like to relax? I love to read. I love Dean Koontz, Stephen King, James Patterson, Ann Rule.
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– ews tervi ns – at n i e M o r q u e s t i o s s . o rg o re acce a n d mo m m u n i t y n e zi .c www /c-maga
Eas et S t re 2nd t 17
home Project team: Peter L. Wo
ll Architect P.C.; Mega Co
ntracting Group – 126 un
its now open!
Following East 172nd Street, Community Access is also developing each of these new buildings.
e enu r Av an Quotient; LLC; Aufgang Architects; Urb s itie Equ ddd Ma m: tea t Projec units in pre-development Joy Construction Corp. – 245
Ca Project team: think! Architecture and Design; Monadnock Construction, Inc. – 215 units opening in 2020
Project team: Nizao Realt y Corp.; Blue Sky Bronx, LLC; Edelman Sulta n Knox Wood Architects – 163 units in pre-development
Bruc kner Boul evar d
E a s t Tr e m ont
With a lot of help and support, we’re getting it done – and hundreds of our fellow New Yorkers will then make it .
g Group; Community Health Project team: Mega Contractin units in pre-development Network; SLCE Architects – 202
Tom (second-right) with EVA participants (l to r) Michelle, Miguel, David, and Ralph – in a neighborhood garden where EVA grows vegetables and herbs.
How Am I Doing?
MAKING A DIFFERENCE at East Village Access by Jon Curtis
efore New York, Tom Dunning lived in several states and countries. As a young man he followed a religious calling, assisting pastors. Later, in high-pressure jobs at internet start-ups, he earned bigger pay checks – and a glowing reputation. In 2011, however, Tom’s life scaled down dramatically. Abruptly laid off and in a new city – he moved for family reasons – he was unemployed, anxious, and lonely. Mental health issues, previously unaddressed, were suddenly urgent and intense. “I always just ran it out,” Tom remembers, “but losing a job I put my heart and soul into hit me really hard.” When you’ve no miles left to run, where do you go? Tom turned to Community Access’ psychiatric
rehabilitation and treatment program, East Village Access (EVA). For the next five years as an EVA participant, he worked on getting better. Then, as an intern, he stayed on to help others too. Finally, at the start of 2018, Tom became a full-time EVA staff member – as billing and administrative coordinator. Now, few people know EVA better. Firsthand and alongside many fellow participants and colleagues, he’s seen and felt the transforming power of EVA’s compassionate ethos; the quiet strength of a community helping each of its members to forge brighter futures. “At first I was just going through the motions here,” says Tom. “But I’d stay all day and go to every group – and that structure made my world a place that I could rebuild. I had good people who listened to me, and counselled me well.” “If you had told me when I first got here,” he continues, “‘You’re going to have a job, be in a relationship, enjoy the sunshine, make friends,’ I would’ve just looked at you like, Are you insane?” At EVA similar successes almost start to feel routine – though not because they are easily achieved. Rather, EVA smartly combines pragmatic, hands-on support with the general recognition that people are best
“There’s a lot of love in this place.”
served when they are free to define their own goals and to pursue these at their own pace. Says Tom: “It’s a judgment-free zone. EVA accepts people where they are, and everyone is treated equally. Nobody pushes you out, but you’re not here forever. It’s all about empowering you to achieve your goals, whatever that looks like for each individual.” Even – especially – when that’s a long road, with setbacks and struggles along the way, the work of EVA remains steadfast and constant. “I see clients in tears sometimes,” says Tom, “and they say to me, I’m trying so hard – Am I doing okay? I always reply: ‘You’re doing amazing. I’ve seen you, you come every day, you’re here.’ It only takes saying that for their whole world to turn around and they’re okay again. It’s not so much about me, but there’s an exchange there, and there is a love that’s coming back.” It’s what Community Access is all about: strength in numbers, and the healing properties of connection. “I love the community here,” Tom concludes. “There’s a lot of love in this place.”
Hear more from Tom at www.communityaccess.org/ca-voices