It has been just over four years since Rosanne Haggerty, President of Community Solutions, dove headfirst into seeking a lasting solution to homelessness by preventing it in the first place.
This week, the Rockefeller Foundation announced that they had selected Rosanne to receive the prestigious Jane Jacobs Medal for New Ideas and Activism. The medal is awarded each year to a recipient whose work has created new ways of “seeing New York City, challenging the traditional assumptions and creatively using the urban environment to make New York City a place of hope and expectation." She was most notably recognized for her work in creating the Brownsville Partnership to revitalize Brownsville, Brooklyn, one of New York City’s most challenged neighborhoods.
The Partnership unites the efforts of public agencies, not for profits and community residents to change the conditions that lead to homelessness and other crises. It is an approach that epitomizes the concept of "collective impact," and the value of coordinating many efforts to achieve common goals. The team working on the ground in Brownsville both identifies families who need assistance before an eviction or other crisis hits, and leads efforts to improve the neighborhood.
Community Solutions' work in Brownsville began when Rosanne saw the need for a new approach to homelessness. She looked at the data showing that hundreds of Brownsville families were entering New York City's shelter system each year, and that hundreds more Brownsville residents were ending up in hospitals, jails or the foster care system, and facing homelessness once they left those institutions. In Jane Jacobs fashion, and with the generous support of the Robin Hood Foundation and other early supporters, Rosanne and a small group of colleagues opened an office in Brownsville to learn directly from the community what it would take to turn things around. They discovered a community badly neglected, yet with rich assets and needing coordinated investment and action. The concept of the Partnership was born to begin that work. Rosanne joined forces with neighborhood legend, Greg Jackson, a lifelong resident of Brownsville and one time NBA player who became the first director of the Partnership and led the effort until his untimely death in May of this year.
Rasmia Kirmani-Frye, now the director of the Partnership and a member of the original Partnership team, said the Jane Jacobs Medal is a sign of faith and hope in the future of Brownsville. “This is a real recognition and celebration of Greg and Rosanne’s vision of Brownsville as a healthy and prosperous community,” said Rasmia. “We are demonstrating that the vision can be realized and we are reinforcing what we already know about Brownsville - it’s alive and kicking, and it’s poised to take that next step.”
Under Rosanne’s leadership, the Partnership has enlisted more than a dozen partners to establish a presence in Brownsville and collaborate with residents and local organizations to build a stronger and more successful neighborhood where families can thrive.
Organizations as diverse as the Brooklyn District Public Health Office, which is bringing bike lanes to the community; SCO Family of Services, which has brought eight early childhood programs to Brownsville; the Department of Probation, which has opened its first community-based office in Brownsville; GrowNYC, which operates three farmers markets in the neighborhood; and Neighborhood Financial Trust, which provides financial literacy training, have connected through the Partnership with local institutions including the Brooklyn Public Library, Pitkin Avenue Business Improvement, the police and local schools in a common effort to strengthen families and the Brownsville neighborhood.
Thus far, the Partnership has prevented more than 500 families from losing their homes and resettled over 100 families that had been homeless multiple times. Helping families resolve a housing crisis keeps children in school, lets parents get back to work, and avoids millions in public expenditures on emergency shelters. The effort has also connected more than 350 residents to job training and employment with the help of a variety of partners.
Greg Berman, Director of the Center for Court Innovation, one of the partners collaborating in Brownsville, said the Jane Jacobs award is symbolic of change in the Brownsville neighborhood.
“There is a sense of momentum that exists today that didn’t exist 24 months ago and before that,” he said.
The Center for Court Innovation is opening a community court in the neighborhood and has launched a program that puts first-time youth offenders on a positive track, but Berman credited Rosanne for the progress that has been made there.
“Brownsville is one of a handful of neighborhoods that has been largely untouched by gains that New York City has experienced over the last few years in terms of economics and public safety,” he said. “There is no one more than Rosanne who has been responsible over the past five years for shining a spotlight on Brownsville. And she has not only done that, but she has focused on those in the neighborhood and brought together a cadre of citywide and local organizations to try to solve problems there.”
Eric Weingartner, Managing Director at Robin Hood, New York’s largest poverty-fighting organization, said he was delighted that the Rockefeller Foundation recognized Rosanne’s work because she is a trailblazer in the field. Robin Hood was the first funder of Community Solutions’ work in Brownsville.“
Rosanne and Community Solutions have been supporting New Yorkers and residents of Brownsville through a commitment to housing and safety, and by thinking about how to mobilize other human services organizations supporting that type of effort,” said Weingartner. “Supporting the Brownsville Partnership is a logical extension of our goal to fight poverty in New York.”
The Rockefeller Foundation's announcement of the Jane Jacobs Medal recipients explained that Rosanne was chosen for the award “for her creative energy and ceaseless efforts to create shelters for the homeless, and to provide the people it serves with dignity and the means to reintegrate into the community.” In addition to the medal, Rosanne will receive a $75,000 award that she will donate to Community Solutions.
“I’m proud and honored that the Rockefeller Foundation has recognized this collaborative effort,” she said, "and thrilled to have our work associated with Jane Jacobs' wisdom and values."
Jane Jacobs was a writer and activist in New York City with an innovative perspective on urban planning. At a time when many failed so see the consequences of urban renewal plans that destroyed neighborhoods, she fought against it in the interest of keeping existing neighborhoods whole. With no formal training, Jane Jacobs introduced new, community-based approaches to improving neighborhoods and revolutionized urban planning.
Rosanne noted that Jane Jacobs inspired the Partnership's vision for how to strengthen and improve Brownsville’s public housing. "Her chapter, 'Salvaging the Projects' in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, is the blueprint for our approach," said Rosanne.
The Partnership's approach to Brownsville's public housing mirrors what Jacobs advocated: a commitment to improving existing housing and building a healthy and diverse neighborhood around the current buildings. This would include reconnecting the “super blocks” that isolate public housing from their surrounding neighborhoods back into the city’s street grid.
With the help of Alexander Gorlin Architects, the Partnership has shown that by filling in now poorly planned open spaces used for parking or garbage collection it is possible to create more than 700 new homes, gardens and playing fields, retail stores, a new school or cultural center building and parking in and around Brownsville’s major public housing complexes without demolishing existing housing or displacing current residents.