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— Calvin Luther Martin, PhD

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All the photos, below, are from the St. Joe’s “supportive housing” project at 90 Elm Street, Malone. St. Joe’s has christened it “Main on Elm.”

As many of you know, this beautiful rambling building was for many years an Ursuline convent. (Note that the Ursulines are a teaching order.)

After that it housed the nursing program for North Country Community College.

After a spectacular $5.6 million renovation, it is fitting that the building and its grounds have joined the nationwide supportive housing network.  (NYS has been for years a leader in this movement.) Main on Elm is designed, architecturally and programmatically, to be a place of teaching and healing. The Ursulines and nurses would be proud.

More than anything else, Main on Elm is a community project.  Not because it’s funded by NYS tax money — which it is.  The genius of 90 Elm is its commitment to the principle of grace, which is hardwired into human nature.  Evolutionary biologists call it “altruism,” and puzzle over its origin and possible hereditary mechanism.  Anthropologists have long witnessed this grace as the “gift” which is the main driver within all aboriginal societies. The “gift” predates, by tens of thousands of years, economic institutions such as trade, commerce, usury, the accumulation of wealth and, of course, capitalism and corporations.  (No, the “gift” is not the same as “barter.”  And so-called “Indian giving” in the colonial era is a complete perversion and misunderstanding of what actually transpired. But I’m straying beyond the immediate topic.)
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St. Matthew tells us that Jesus spelled out the parameters of the “gift” as follows.
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People with the title “Saint” before their name took these terms seriously. (Mother Theresa comes to mind.)  The rest of us, myself included, are more comfortable nodding pious assent as we sit solemnly in a church pew.

What’s unnerving is that St. Joe’s insists we take these terms seriously.
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St. Joe’s just gambled $5.6 million of taxpayer money on bricks & mortar and 10 highly trained staff to bring Jesus to 90 Elm Street.  No, not for the rest of us to stand across the street and stare and comment and write Letters to the Editor, but to dive in and get involved.

Don’t think of this as Main on Elm; this is nothing less than Jesus on Elm.

However one interprets his credentials — Son of God, Messiah, Savior, teacher, sage, mystic — Jesus was never a comfortable figure.  Don’t expect him (Him) to be a comfortable presence on Elm Street, either.  (That’s why they crucified him.  He upset the applecart.)
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St. Joe’s just upset our applecart.  Without our realizing it, they planted a real church in our midst.  By real I mean the searing realities Walt Whitman embraced:

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Chena. That’s her name.  She’s 38.  Look at her long and hard.  Notice the scars.  Withal, notice her spirit and will-power; it’s as clear as can be.  Chena is who Jesus and Walt Whitman had in mind.

Chena lives in a supportive housing project in Seattle, Wash., with the initials DESC (Downtown Emergency Services Center).  St. Joe’s will be run much like Seattle’s DESC, with the notable exception that St. Joe’s will not be an “emergency services” facility, as I will explain, below.

Here’s Chena’s story — 8 minutes of it.
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Now watch Roger’s story.  Likewise a DESC client.
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Supportive Housing:  What Is It?

I suppose it depends on who you ask.  The Center on Budget & Policy Priorities defines it as “affordable housing [combined] with intensive coordinated services to help people struggling with chronic physical and mental health issues maintain stable housing and receive appropriate health care.”  The benefits and challenges of supportive housing are laid out in their 2016 policy analysis,  “Supportive Housing Helps Vulnerable People Live and Thrive in the Community,” below.  (Click on the arrow in the lower right-hand corner to pull up the article on your screen.)
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Here is St. Joe’s explanation of how they intend to bring supportive housing to pass at 90 Elm Street. (Again, click on the arrow in the lower right-hand corner to pull up the article on your screen.)
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I find both explanations numbingly bureaucratic.  So I visited Brandon Titus, the man who will be running St. Joe’s on Elm, and interrogated him for several hours.

Brandon Titus, Associate Director of Housing, Community Services St. Joseph’s Addiction Treatment & Recovery Centers

Here is his resumé, sent to me at my request.  (The numbers in the left column are keyed to the questions I asked him in an email.  Again, click on the arrow in the lower right-hand corner to pull up the document on your screen.)
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I bombarded Brandon with all the fears and rumors flying around Malone regarding 90 Elm.  I flung every conceivable screw-up and programmatic weakness in his face — “What if this happens?”  “What if that happens?” — that could turn 90 Elm into a fiasco.  I went prepared to unmask 90 Elm as yet another “charity” scam hoovering up tax dollars.  (America has a long history of these hucksters.  Read Herman Melville’s “The Confidence Man.”  My father was one of them.)

In short, I played the devil’s advocate.  Miraculously, Brandon never lost his temper with me.  Nor was he evasive.  And here’s what I learned:

» The $5.6 million renovation was funded by the NYS Homeless Housing and Assistance Program (HHAP) run by the NYS Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) through its Housing and Support Services (HSS) program. Click here to read about the HHAP on the NYS OTDA website. Click here to see photographs of comparable projects throughout the state.

» The building consists of 3 floors of apartments — 20 in all — either 1, 2, or 3-bedroom.  They all look like the photos shown above.

» All the apartments have central air conditioning and baseboard heat (which I believe is natural gas/hot water).
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» There is sufficient parking in the back lot for all vehicles.  Thus, no need to park on Elm St.
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» Each of the 3 floors has a laundry room with several washers & dryers and a laundry sink.  One of the washers is oversized.
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» There’s an elevator.
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» There’s a stairwell at both ends of the building.  The lighting in the stairs in ingenious:  It’s dim until the moment it detects someone entering the stairwell, whereupon it gets bright.
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» The hallways look like this.
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» There is even a public restroom at the end of each hallway, across from the elevator.
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» The outdoor trash is kept in an ample, secured, tastefully enclosed area.  Since Brandon was recently appointed to the Franklin County Solid Waste Authority, chances are good that trash will get picked up regularly.
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» The front office space looks like this.
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(You can see why Mike Maneely and I began scheming about a way we could move in.  We haven’t yet figured out how to hoodwink Brandon, but we’re working on it.)

»  I said, above, that the building has 3 floors of apartments. The 2 top floors have a slightly different purpose from the 1st floor apartments.  

» Floors 2 & 3 are what are called Permanent Supportive Housing.  These apartments are funded by the NYS Office of Alcoholism & Substance Services (OASAS) and will be rented and programmatically administered according to 2 somewhat different “brands” of supportive housing:  (a) the Upstate Permanent Supportive Housing Initiative, and (b) the Empire State Supportive Housing Initiative.  The former goes by the acronym Upstate PSH, the latter, ESSHI. Both “brands” are subject to OASAS guidelines for admitting tenants and for their case management.  You can read about both brands, below.  (Click in the lower right-hand corner to pull up the document on your screen.)
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»
 The document, above, explains who the so-called target populations are for the 2 upper floors of apartments, under the Upstate PSH and ESSHI guidelines.  I find the explanations murky. As best I can tell from this document and conversations with Brandon, these apartments are for individuals or families who are at risk of homelessness or are presently living in subpar housing. These individuals may well be in treatment for drug or alcohol abuse or other family or behavioral problems.

» Everyone living in these apartments (floors 2 & 3) must agree to work with St. Joe’s in-house staff according to a rigorous, clearly defined, and pretty much daily regimen of counseling or vocational training or therapy, as determined by the in-house staff in interviews with prospective tenants prior to these people moving in. In other words, St. Joe’s is not running a standard apartment complex. These apartments are for people who need help and are willing to be helped by the house staff.  The house staff will plug tenants into other therapeutic and support agencies and programs within the community when the staff feels this is warranted.

» There will be 6 staff for the 2nd and 3rd-floor programs.  (There will be no licensed mental health staff or nurse on-site.) Two of the staff will be peer coordinators who will work in-home (i.e., in the apartments with tenants). The peer coordinators will build the service plans and work to integrate tenants into the Malone community. In addition there will be vocational-educational staff  working with tenants 40 hours a week.  There will also be Family Peer Advocates (FPA’s) and Family Peer Recovery Advocates dealing with substance abuse. Overall, the building will have 9 staff members: 2 peer coordinators, several vocational-educational personnel, maintenance staff, and FPA’s. Six of these individuals will work daily with tenants living on floors 2 & 3. The remaining 3 staffers will work with tenants living in the 1st floor apartments, which will be run according to a somewhat different program and clientele, as I will explain below.

(1)  When he worked at Citizen Advocates, Brandon was in charge of the Family Peer Advocates. He’s very familiar with what they do. These are people who have lived the experience of raising a child with disabilities, often with behavioral issues. These advocates have navigated the system with these children, and have been certified, through state credentialing, through a state program called PET (Parent Empowerment Training). This is intensive and extensive training. These individuals are professionals who are re-certified periodically by the state. The Family Peer Advocates will be working with individuals living on the 1st floor. Thus people living on the 1st floor will get intensive in-home services from Family Peer Advocates to meet the needs of the family unit.

» If a drug addict wishes to live at the center, he or she must be in recovery. Monitored recovery. These individuals will be linked to the outpatient clinic down the street. Brandon emphasized that the center is not a traditional “recovery center.”

» Brandon and his staff will inform prospective residents, “You must participate in programs a, b, and c, as explained in the referral process and paperwork which brought you to our door.”  If people say, “No way!” they will be turned away.

» Brandon tells me that everyone on the staff will be trained in counseling, including the custodians for weekend counseling. Brandon, by the way, will be doing all the hiring.

» The center will be drug and alcohol free, and there will be no smoking in the building. Brandon tells me they will not do drug testing in the building; however, he anticipates that many of the tenants will be connected to community services that will indeed test them. He emphasized that the center will work closely with these other services.

» Brandon will be in charge of the center.  He tells me he has offered to be on call 24 hours a day, noting that he lives “just down the street.” He says that if the staff on duty at the center, let’s say at night, can’t handle a situation, he himself will come in and take care of it. “I have no intention of leaving this understaffed.”

» The 1st floor apartments are considered Transitional Living Apartments. Whereas the 2nd and 3rd floor apartments have no time limit for residency — one can live in one of these units forever — the 1st floor apartments are indeed temporary.  These apartments are run according to a somewhat different set of principles and are certified as “homeless housing” by the NYS Homeless Housing and Assistance Program (HHAP) run by the NYS Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) through its Housing and Support Services (HSS) program. Click here to read about the HHAP on the NYS OTDA website. Click here to see photographs of comparable projects throughout the state.

» The 7 apartments on the 1st floor are indeed for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, with several important stipulations:

(1) These individuals will currently be living locally.  In other words, they will not be from downstate or out-of-state.  Nor will they be “drop-in” or “crisis” or “emergency” cases.

(2) St. Joe’s will run 1st floor program and housing in partnership with the Franklin County Dept. of Social Services (DSS), where DSS identifies people who need stable and supportive housing to support their individual or family integrity and recovery.  The process will work as follows:  (a) the St. Joe’s intensive care coordinator or case manager in charge of the 1st floor will get a referral from DSS; (b) the individual or family arrives with a plan developed by DSS working with St. Joe’s; and (c) the plan must show how the needs of the individual or family will be met by living in one of the 1st floor apartments. The idea is that St. Joe’s will stabilize these people and assist them in meeting their needs. This will include working with Brandon called “community partners,” such as mental health services and other primary care services.

(a) When social services pulls somebody in as homeless, they build a plan with them. Such as, “you need to find suitable housing, you need to get medical care, you need a job, you need job training,” etc. This plan is shared with St. Joe’s and becomes the basis of the program for this individual at the center. Brandon says that if the clients are not doing what’s listed on the DSS plan, that DSS pulls their funding. Hence, these individuals could not stay at the center from that point on.

 (3) Brandon assures me that the 1st floor will have at least one staff person onsite 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. He also notes that there will be what he called house rules which will be enforced for all 3 floors.

 (a) In Brandon’s words (a close paraphrase):  “Our daytime staff will be here for the entire building, but we want to be sure there is a body here 24 hours a day to meet the needs of the people who live here,” both upstairs and on the 1st floor. St. Joe’s will provide this 1st floor staff person, who will be either an intensive care coordinator or case manager-type staff “to intensively manage every individual who comes in” to floor number 1.

» People living temporarily in the 1st floor apartments will have their rent and utilities paid by public assistance, in other words DSS, on a per diem basis.

» People living in the apartments on the 2nd and 3rd floors will be paying for their apartments and they will have actual leases.

(1) Under the ESSHI program, which funds and administers the 2nd & 3rd floor apartments, St. Joe’s can charge no more than 30% of the tenant’s adjusted income, or 10% of their gross income, or the full amount of their welfare payment designated to meet housing needs — whichever of the 3 figures is the largest. If the tenant is on a PA (public assistance) grant or has HUD, St. Joe’s will be reimbursed for the individual’s rent.

» I asked Brandon if the 2nd and 3rd floor apartments might turn into a magnet for riffraff friends and relatives of center residents, with Malone finding itself hosting a wave of unsavory individuals who have descended on the village because they have a relative or friend living at 90 Elm. “Yes, this is possible,” admitted Brandon, “but I think what you’re going to see is that the individuals who utilize this program already live here. We expect that a large portion of our residents will be local.”

» Finally, I recommend watching this video of a similar, supportive housing project downstate. When you click the video open, you will notice that I set the timer to start at slightly over 1 minute — to the spot where a school principal is describing what it’s like having a supportive housing project across the street from his school.  Once you’ve watched that clip, go ahead and move the cursor to the beginning of the video.  All of it is worth watching.
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The OASAS document I inserted, above, consists of pages excerpted from this document (below).  I encourage people to read this document. It provides considerable detail on how Upstate PSH and ESSHI are conducted, and what we can expect as the host community.
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I have intentionally loaded this article with detail because the project is complex and liable to misunderstanding as it rolls out.  Hang onto the document, above, so you know what St. Joe’s can and cannot do with its tenants.

Think of it this way.  What you read in this document is St. Joe’s contract with NYS, at least with respect to the 2 upper floors of apartments.  The nitty gritty and specifics are all here.  If you’re a neighbor of 90 Elm, or simply someone in the community, and you have a beef with what’s happening or with the tenants occupying the building, this is the document to refer to for redress — along with, of course, speaking to Brandon Titus and his bosses.
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Brandon’s bosses.

I repeat, we must understand that Brandon and his bosses are authorized by NYS to do whatever is outlined in this document.  Everyone in Malone should read it.  I don’t mean this to sound ominous.  I believe in being prudent and informed. That document and this article are your education on what’s in store for us at 90 Elm Street.
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Brandon Titus strikes me as an honorable and compassionate young man, well-qualified to run the project.  (He and I have had a number of conversations.)  With his hand on the wheel, I foresee a magnificent voyage for this vessel. And yet the journey is not without peril; there are numerous shoals and reefs.  Such as, if his bosses, Bob Ross and Robin Gay, dump him and hire someone else, 90 Elm could turn into a different story.
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Brandon’s going to need a seasoned pilot.  I suggest he rely on the one St. Matthew recommended.  (I’m not a Christian for the simple reason that I don’t know what the term means.  And, by the way, I don’t think anyone else does, either.  I do, however, consider Jesus to be the best damn seaman and navigator I’ve encountered.)
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If Brandon and St. Joe’s stick with the principle of the Gift — the Gift that is the only thing that has ever illumined the way for humanity — this enterprise will do fine.  “In the beginning was the Word,” writes another of the saints, “and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”  In this Word was life, and the “life was the light of men.”  “The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.”

I submit that the Word was Grace — the Gift.  In the Gift was life, and the Gift was the light of men.  The Gift shines in darkness, and the darkness comprehends it not.  

Don’t call this poetry.  Don’t call it religion or Christianity or philosophy.  Call it “being a human being.”
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Ninety Elm is about being a human being.  I don’t care what the NYS Office of Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Services calls it.  I don’t really care about “supportive housing brands” or acronyms or documents loaded with programmatic guidelines.  Ninety Elm is Grace.  The Gift.  Let us as a community work with Brandon and St. Joe’s to make certain they, and we, always see it so.

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Here’s the contact information for Brandon and Bob Ross, CEO of St. Joe’s.  I am providing it with their permission.  Go ahead and email or call them and share your thoughts.  Your hopes, reservations, fears, ways you can support what they’re doing — any of these.  

I have talked to both men.  (Bob by email only.  Several times.)  They are good listeners and fair-minded.  No, you won’t offend them if you say this program makes you uneasy.  (Frankly, it probably rattles them a bit, as well.)

I suspect that each of them, in his own private way, identifies with this image:
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Additional videos and other relevant links:

http://otda.ny.gov/programs/housing/photos.asp

http://otda.ny.gov/programs/housing/hhap.asp

https://shnny.org/learn-more/in-the-media/video/good-housing-good-neighbors/

https://shnny.org/research-reports/research/neighborhood-impact

https://www.desc.org/about/history/

https://www.desc.org/about/who-we-serve/

https://www.desc.org/what-we-do/housing/

https://rehabreviews.com/providence-supportive-housing-review/

https://auburnha.org

http://housingvisions.org/rent-an-apartment/oneonta/oneonta-heights/

http://housingvisions.org/development/portfolio/elmira/chemung-crossing/

http://housingvisions.org/development/portfolio/south-syracuse/ethel-t-chamberlain/

https://www.cambahousingventures.org/developments/completed/cambagardens

https://www.westhab.org