We spoke with Cara Pace, president of Housing Solutions USA, a nonprofit with revenues of $65 million that provides services to the homeless and needy in New York City. Almost 8,000 people are helped every year through Housing Solutions USA, and about 150 are employed at the organization.
How did you become involved with Housing Solutions USA?
In the late ’90s, I worked at an organization called the Children’s Health Fund at Montreal Medical Center. They provided healthcare services to people in the homeless shelters in New York City. In 2001, I moved to Volunteers for America and ran their largest division, housing and shelter in New York City, a program for people who were victims of domestic violence; had medical issues; had supportive housing, affordable housing, or market rent; and were living in shelters for families. I spent ten and a half years at Volunteers for America running a diverse portfolio, and I had the opportunity to start a new organization called Housing Solutions USA with former Commissioner of Public Services Robert Heft and Alison Iski. We decided to pool our talents and create a new kind of nonprofit that was really results-focused; we wanted to make a difference in homelessness in New York City.
Why do you consider Housing Solutions USA a “next-generation” nonprofit?
We take a business approach. We try to be effective in our programming and costs, as well as results-driven, in that we provide cutting-edge services to our clients that are also practical. We approach every client individually and make sure our staff understands the need to be diverse in our approaches, because everyone is different—everyone is facing challenges for different reasons. We empower our clients to take charge of their life plans, and be instrumental in improving their own situation and getting out of the homeless shelter. Because we take this approach, we’re able to put people into housing and establish relationships with clients more quickly, and we can operate with a smaller staff. Many times, nonprofits get caught up in advocacy, rather than in being results-driven.
How long do people usually stay in the housing solutions? How do you help them get back on their feet?
They generally stay between nine and twelve months. When people come to us, we start immediately to work on an exit strategy and identify the underlying causes of their homelessness. Whether the problem is job loss, a medical issue, or drug abuse, we connect them with services that will help them deal with issues or get proper training. We set practical goals in our plans and follow up with accountability questions like are you using drugs, are you sending out a certain number of résumés, and did you go to your job interviews? They have ownership of the plan, and goals that are measured weekly.
How do you see the problem of homelessness in New York City being solved?
As an organization, we’ve become engaged in policymaking in the city and the industry as a whole. The homeless service industry and nonprofit providers are trying to educate New York City mayoral candidates and other elected officials to make homelessness a top priority in the next administration. I think as part of this community we’re able to get media outlets to pay more attention to homelessness, to help them understand that it’s not just related to a disaster like Sandy. It’s a serious issue for families and children that should have a higher priority across the country.