ESKW/A Partner, Kimberly, AIA, shares her experience and thoughts on the conference:

After three years of no gatherings, SHNNY returned to Times Square last week for their 20th Annual NY State Supportive Housing Conference. It was wonderful to see all the providers, policy makers and developers at the forefront of this very special and important type of housing. The event allows for networking as well as a day of workshops to keep abreast of what is happening in Supportive Housing around the state.

ESKW/Architects has been designing supportive housing since our merger with Sultan Architecture & Design in 2002 starting with our Lewis Avenue project for the Institute for Community Living (ICL). Back in 1994 our former partner, Joe Sultan (who was then the principal at Gran Sultan Associates) collaborated with the NYS Office of Mental Health (NYS OMH) and the Corporation for Supportive Housing to publish the ‘Design Manual for Service Enriched Single Room Occupancy Residences.’ The manual illustrated eight adaptable prototypes for single room occupancy (SRO) residences for people with chronic mental illness and covered a range of topics from layouts to building materials and other information of interest to supportive housing providers, architects, and funding agencies.

Since then, we have welcomed every collaboration for supportive housing including Hour Children, True Colors Residence, True Colors Bronx, Myrtle Avenue, and East 11th Street. More recent projects integrate supportive housing with community units such as East New York, Landing Road, Park Avenue, Cortelyou Road, Bedford Green House, and the School Street Residences.

It was wonderful to be amongst the teams that make this type of housing possible and successful. The keynote speaker was Lori Yearwood, a trauma-informed journalist, who spoke about her personal journey through what she called her hurricane of trauma. Included in her many poignant and thoughtful messages, she shared that she had been mis-diagnosed with mental illnesses when, in fact, she was suffering from deep trauma. This message was met with countless nods and murmurs of agreement from the many social service providers in the room. As an architect, I found this fascinating and wondered how the design of our buildings can better assist the work of healing.

The first workshop I attended was titled ‘Helping Heal Families Escaping Domestic Violence’. The panel included a researcher, director, case manager, and a resident from the New Destiny Family Support Program. Family housing is not what most people think about when talking about Supportive Housing, but there is certainly a need for families who have experienced significant trauma to have safe, permanent housing with support. One of the outstanding details about the work of New Destiny is that even though their buildings may be only 50% domestic abuse survivors, they offer support service to 100% of the residents.

The other workshop I attended was more specific to the development and funding of Supportive Housing. There was standing room only for ‘New York State of Mind: NYC 15/15 and ESSHI’ where representatives from the state and the city went into detail about their respective funding programs for supportive housing. The funding cocktails for these special projects can be extremely complex, but one important take away is that the development team and the service provider need to be true partners in the project. Ideally the non-profit has Ownership in the project as is the case in most of our projects, however it is good to reinforce the importance of a strong presence of a supportive culture in the buildings.

Overall, it was lovely to see so many from the Supportive Housing world back together. The population of our buildings have been significantly affected over the course of the pandemic, and the supportive housing directors, case managers, program operators and their entire teams have been on the front lines. Our office appreciates them and their mission and couldn’t be more grateful to do this work.