The pandemic’s effects are far-reaching, but they are especially visible in the Times Square area of New York City. Amidst the international attraction, there is an increasing presence of people who are either impacted by mental illness, are housing insecure, living with substance use disorders, or a combination of these factors.
In January 2021, Fountain House, Times Square Alliance, Midtown Community Court, and Breaking Ground came together to build Community First—a pilot project in Midtown Manhattan that uses a holistic approach. In this program, community navigators build trust with individuals, by first helping them meet their immediate needs—whether that’s a warm meal, clothing, blankets, etc.—and then connecting them with mental health services, housing resources, and medical treatment. The Community First program produced great initial results: In the first few months of 2021, a street outreach team, which included a Fountain House member, referred several people to membership at Fountain House and connected them with services such as access to a psychiatrist.
"Project for Public Spaces helped Fountain House create a space to connect and experiment with new kinds of community building." —Chloe Murtagh, Fountain House
In July 2021, Fountain House, in an effort to build relationships and trust with this vulnerable population partnered with Project for Public Spaces to build a Recharge Station. Having worked on past place-based social service provision projects, we worked with the local fabricators to design and build a kiosk to be staffed by a Fountain House Social Practitioner and Fountain House members completing Transitional and Supportive Employment placements. As Fountain House's incredible Social Practitioner Chloe Murtagh so aptly summarized it, "Project for Public Spaces helped Fountain House create a space to connect and experiment with new kinds of community building."
Today, the kiosk serves people in need, who are experiencing homelessness, mental illness, and loneliness. Visitors and residents are also welcome. It’s a location all can use, which is crucial for building trust for those who are wary, have felt let down by service “systems,” or are afraid of being stigmatized. Functionally, the Recharge Station is designed to facilitate natural ventilation, keeping the inside cool in the summer. In addition, the kiosk was designed to have sufficient storage for the chairs and tables that expand the footprint of this safe haven during the day.
As relationships are built, needs are shared. On a typical day, social practitioners work with the Community First Outreach team to provide help including obtaining ID cards, Social Security cards, benefits, doctor's appointments, housing applications, and more. If individuals have mental health needs, they are also connected directly with Fountain House membership and psychiatric care.
From December 2021 to May 2022, there were over 750 interactions with the target community, almost 500 of these being repeat interactions. In addition, there were more than 1,500 free cups of coffee given out, providing a token of comfort day after day. Based on this success, Fountain House is exploring the possibility of securing funding to expand the kiosk concept to more locations.