November 18, 2015

25 Years of Support, Care and Temporary Housing for Women and Children in the Bronx.


Siena House, in the Highbridge section of the Bronx, is marking its 25th anniversary this year and Concourse House, in the Fordham-Bedford neighborhood will turn 25 in 2016. Both “houses” provide safe, transitional homes for homeless women and their children as well as on-site social services, childcare, housing assistance, job training and life-skills support. Siena House, sponsored by Tolentine Zeiser Community Life Center, provides transitional homes for 27 mothers and their children under the age of three. Concourse House, founded by Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation, is home to 42 women and their children under the age of nine.

Siena House, named after St. Catherine of Siena, is open to all, regardless of race or creed. Sr. Cecelia O.P.(left) and Sr. Mary Doris,O.P. (right) along with Julie,(center) a lay Dominican volunteer, are among the dedicated staff at the center who seek to assist homeless women and their children to move from a situation of homelessness and poverty to independence and self-worth. Siena House supports all efforts that empower women to a fuller participation in society and enhance their human dignity

Concourse House, works to eliminate homelessness by providing families with safe, stable, transitional housing. Concourse House works with the families to break the cycle of poverty by providing a variety of social services and interactive programs that promote growth and independence. Pictured above the “Summer of Fun” is launched for the children at Concourse House, and includes day trips, special activities, reading challenges and outdoor adventures.

While finding permanent affordable housing placements has become more difficult, many of the women who get placed by the housing specialist remain in contact with the staff for support and friendship. Siena House hears from about 35 former residents each year and former residents of Concourse House touch base after a year: and most are doing well and remain in their permanent housing. Residents who receive the scarce and coveted NYCHA or HPD Section 8 vouchers or get selected for supportive housing have the best chances at staying in their new homes due to ongoing subsidies to supplement their low incomes and support.

Siena House and Concourse House provide a supportive environment for the mothers and a caring educationally enriched community for their children with a variety of celebrations, special programs, educational workshops and licensed childcare with trained staff in bright surroundings. Even as finding a suitable permanent housing placement becomes more difficult and fraught with uncertainty, Siena House and Concourse House provide an oasis of stability and care during a critical time in the lives of mothers and their young children. Siena House recently participated in The Lullaby Project, which pairs Carnegie Hall musicians with new and expectant mothers to compose and record lullabies written specifically for each mother’s child. This was featured in the New York Times Magazine.

Charitable monetary and other donations are always welcomed by Siena House and Concourse House, and are used to develop special enrichment programs for the children, assist the mothers, and defray expenses.

Concourse House emphasizes stability and healthy independent living. Each family is offered programs and activities directed toward goal setting and developing a sense of personal responsibility. Pictured above, young artists at work, a gardening program in the yard, watermelons are ripening on the vine, and the newly renovated (with private donations) after-school room for Concourse House kids.

It’s playtime at the Siena House nursery!

UNHP Report on the Concentration of Poverty in the Bronx

UNHP is working on a report to be released later this year on the concentration of poverty in the Bronx. Our initial research indicates that the affordability crisis in the Bronx, highlighted in UNHP’s report Nowhere to Go, has only worsened since its publication in 2013. The Bronx is home to the highest unemployment rate in the city, the highest percentage of severely rent-burdened households, and the highest incidence of overcrowding. Many Bronx residents are in danger of becoming homeless due to these factors. Since the supply of low-income housing is insufficient, Bronx households are struggling to obtain affordable and sustainable housing. The struggle is heightened for those living in shelters or transitional housing like Siena House or Concourse House. Most residents in Tier II housing stay for at least a year, if not longer, before the housing specialists can find the right combination of subsidy, housing program and apartment to fit together.

As part of our report, we are looking at the number of shelters in our community as well as the demand for affordable units. In 2011, capacity at Tier II homeless shelters was 5,255 citywide with 1,641 of those beds located in Tier II shelters in the Bronx.

UNHP research points to a number of factors that contribute to the difficulties in finding permanent affordable housing including:

  • Lack of generally available Section 8 subsidies
  • High costs of rent, even in lower costs areas like the Bronx
  • Unemployment and underemployment 
  • Low wages
  • Distrust of the permanence of newer City/State subsidy programs by both prospective tenants and landlords
  • Long waits for subsidy or program approvals
  • Bad credit and history of eviction for placement in private housing
  • Limited number of supportive housing units to meet the need for people with mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence problems
  • A history of homelessness in their family
  • Working families have the best access to resources, but even they have problems finding the right subsidy to the right rent to a landlord willing to accept the subsidy and the tenant
  • Not enough housing (or deep enough subsidies) for extremely low-income families on public assistance, social security or disability.
  • Overcrowding and high demand for “affordable” Bronx units exacerbate placement