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Rochester's neighborhood anti-poverty groups could get $7M in a new approach

Two rough shelters near a railroad bridge
Max Schulte
Peace Village, a homeless encampment off South Avenue in Rochester, NY.

For years, there have been various efforts to address the many challenges facing people who live in poverty in Rochester.

Some government leaders and advocates have concluded that the solutions can only come from within neighborhoods as opposed to a top-down approach.

"For a long time, we kind of have prescribed solutions into neighborhoods, and that hasn't been very effective," said Andy Carey, a local social worker. "We wanted the neighborhood to have the agency to tell us what they need."

This neighborhood-centric model is what Carey, founder of the MC Collaborative and co-chair of REACH Advocacy, and representatives of other local nonprofits and community organizations are using as the basis for expanding a project that started in 2020.

"When the COVID pandemic began, we started doing walking outreach in a lot of the neighborhoods, just so we could reach people," Carey said. "We wanted to make sure people were still getting services."

What started out as a distribution of masks, hand sanitizer and food grew into a wider recognition of the growing needs in these communities that are often beset by violence, addiction and a lack of access to health care and other services.

In the past two years, community-based centers, including S.W.A.N. at the Montgomery Center, Cameron Ministries and the Father Tracy Advocacy Center, partnered with social service organizations to walk through some of Rochester's poorest neighborhoods to hear what residents need.

"I think it's been one of the greatest experiences in my social work career is realizing how wrong I am," Carey said. "A lot of times, I think there are certain things people want and it's not true at all."

The neighborhood-based model of service distribution appears to be in line with the philosophy of Monroe County Executive Adam Bello, who has advocated for a shift from the traditional, centralized approach.

Bello has earmarked over $7.1 million for the expansion of the neighborhood collaborative project over five years via the county's share of American Rescue Plan dollars. The allocation still needs the approval of the County Legislature.

Even if lawmakers deny the request or settle on a lesser amount of funding, Carey said he and his partners will continue their work.

"(A lack of) funding isn't gonna stop us from doing the next right thing," he said. "But without the funding, we won't be able to have the impact we would like to see on the neighborhoods."

Until now, the costs of the program have been absorbed by the participating agencies and organizations, according to Carey.

Listen to the interview
Hear an interview with Andy Carey on two new community projects to address poverty and homelessness in Rochester.

Project HAVEN

Another collaborative effort Carey is involved in is designed to help individuals who have repeatedly bounced through emergency shelters, detox centers, psychiatric units, and the criminal justice system.

Project HAVEN is a nonprofit-private partnership involving REACH Advocacy, MC Collaborative, Recovery Houses of Rochester Inc., and four Rochester property owners.

The goal of the project is to provide comprehensive support services and emergency and transitional housing in sober and non-sober environments and independent living apartments. To date, Carey said the project partners have access to over 80 beds in various locations with plans to expand.

Those who enter the program will get a social worker who will help them navigate the social service agencies and other resources. The organizations involved expect access to safe housing and services to decrease the burden on hospitals, EMT services, police, jails and courts.

Beth Adams joined WXXI as host of Morning Edition in 2012 after a more than two-decade radio career. She was the longtime host of the WHAM Morning News in Rochester. Her career also took her from radio stations in Elmira, New York, to Miami, Florida.