The Brownsville Partnership
A Community Approach to Ending Homelessness before It Begins
It’s an unlikely alliance: the former NBA player working to fix his troubled neighborhood and the young woman wielding flow charts on how to get there. Greg Jackson and Corinne LeTourneau are part of the Brownsville Partnership (BP), a multi-agency collaborative launched in 2008 to prevent families in this Brooklyn public housing neighborhood from losing their homes. Today, the Partnership is preventing homelessness by strengthening a whole community.
Brownsville—and neighborhoods like it—are where much homelessness begins. Communities of concentrated poverty have the highest rates of unemployment, poor health, crime, family violence, low educational achievement and overcrowding—conditions that make people vulnerable to losing their homes and community supports. Tragically, we spend more taxpayer dollars reacting to these problems—on hospitals, foster care, jails, and shelters—than we do on making these communities healthier, more stable places to live. Community Solutions’ work is based on the premise that it doesn’t have to be this way.
The Mission: Create a Safer, Stronger Community
The Brownsville Partnership was created to apply the same simple, powerful ideas behind supportive housing to an entire neighborhood where homelessness is an ever-present risk. The Partnership connects the help vulnerable people need to remain stably housed and to improve their lives in the places they live.
It is a comprehensive and practical vision, and one that requires many partners. “To make a collaboration like this work, you need strong, local, authentic leaders like Greg,” says Rosanne Haggerty, president of Community Solutions. “And you need people who know public policy, funding, and how to organize partners and resources in an efficient and targeted way. That’s what we do.”
While the CS team works to attract investment and integrate the efforts of partners to achieve common goals, Jackson does what he has always done: “Greg’s genius is in seeing the capacity in people,” says Haggerty. “He asks ‘who can we excite, how can we involve lots of people?’” Weekly coffee klatches draw out more local leaders and inspire projects to improve the neighborhood. They also help identify families for help from BP case workers before an eviction or other crisis hits. Young people are organized into community clean-ups every weekend. “The Partnership is fundamentally about building the community’s capacity to solve problems,” Haggerty explains.
Making Real, Measurable Progress
Community Solutions has enlisted over a dozen leading not for profit and City agency partners to bring new services and investment to Brownsville. The partners also pool resources to make measurable progress on the core neighborhood issues of safety, health, education and economic opportunity.
While there is much work yet to do, the BP has made real gains on each of those core issues. Since launching in 2008, the initiative has assisted over 500 families with housing crises, and prevented more than 350 evictions, avoiding approximately $12.6 million in public expenditures on emergency shelters. The effort has connected more than 350 residents to job training and employment through a variety of partners, such as the HOPE Program, Year Up, Non-traditional Employment for Women, N-Power, local businesses, and many others.
Long-term, educational success is a powerful investment in preventing homelessness, so the Partnership has made education a focus. Partner SCO Family of Services has established six early childhood programs and so far has served over 300 families in Brownsville. Three new charter schools have opened, and the BP works closely with the struggling public school attended by many children in the neighborhood’s poorest census tracts.
To create alternative paths for young people whose lives have started to go off course, the Partnership persuaded The Center for Court Innovation to open a community court in Brownsville. Their first program is already open: a Youth Court that works to put first- time youth offenders on a positive track.
The BP has also tackled health, partnering with Healthy Families Brooklyn to train and hire 10 community members as Health Advocates. Rosalind Magwood, who first encountered the Partnership when it helped her avoid being evicted, is one of them. She helps her neighbors to access primary care and learn how they can improve their health beginning with small changes to their diet and exercise habits. “The BP helped me,” she says, “and gave me an open door to help others who can’t get help.”
Ending homelessness will require smart, targeted investments in the places people are most likely to lose their connections to home and community supports. The good news is that investments in vulnerable neighborhoods like Brownsville can improve peoples’ lives and enable them to contribute in many ways, not just prevent homelessness.