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Breaking Ground

Breaking Ground, formerly known as Common Ground, was an early pioneer in social housing in New York City, and has since grown to become the largest provider in the city. It re-purposes older buildings and builds new ones that combine dignified, permanent, affordable housing with services that support residents in breaking their cycle of homelessness. It calls its model “supportive housing.”

Breaking Ground wants its buildings to be integrated into their neighborhoods. This includes converting crime ridden, dilapidated buildings into vibrant affordable housing and incorporating spaces that can be rented by local organizations.

Breaking Ground’s mission and philosophy is rooted in the belief that homelessness is a problem that can only be solved holistically– working with the individual to support needs that include, but go beyond, permanent housing. Breaking ground offers its clients a complete suite of services to address concerns problems typically found in homeless populations. For example, residents are given access to job training, drug & alcohol counseling, and social support. The constellation of services works to address many of the root causes of chronic homelessness. Moreover, Breaking Ground’s clients are provided homes without obligation to complete a rehabilitation program, obtain sobriety or meet any other precondition.

Why this holistic? One of the harder problems to solve when addressing homelessness is recidivism. With a traditional shelter model, moving residents out as soon as possible is frequently a priority. The resident might be ‘back on their feet’ for a period of time and then suffer a setback which sees them lose their housing again.

Because shelter is only one part of the equation, a shelter-only approach has proven ineffective at actually combatting homelessness. By understanding homelessness as a multi-layered condition, Breaking Ground has made substantial progress in moving families out of homelessness permanently.

We had an opportunity to speak with Jonathan Kirschenfeld and Brenda Rosen on Social Design Insights. Listen to the episodes here: