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What We Do

What We Do

Breaking Ground employs a range of effective, data-driven initiatives designed to enable people to forever escape the trauma of homelessness. 

Home is more than just four walls and a roof. At Breaking Ground, home means a support system. The wraparound services we provide help each person get – and stay – on the path to permanent stability:  

  • Benefits assistance
  • Primary medical care
  • Mental health care
  • Substance use referrals
  • Skills-building, self-sufficiency programs, and connection to employment services

Each year, we serve more than 6,000 vulnerable New Yorkers through Street Outreach, Transitional Housing, and Permanent Supportive and Affordable Housing. Explore our programs below.

Program

Street to Home

24/7 in Brooklyn, Queens and Midtown Manhattan

Engagement and counseling outdoors, where men and women experience homelessness on the streets, to get them out of harm’s way and into the continuum of services that that empower them to transform their own lives.

Program

Transitional Housing

299 units

Temporary housing, along with intensive onsite case management, provides individuals in the most precarious circumstances with the space, time and assistance they need to work toward securing permanent affordable housing.

Program

Permanent Housing

3,362 units

Through 18 residences and 111 “Scatter Site” apartments - all with access to support services as needed - we provide the security that enables formerly homeless and low-income New Yorkers to make a lasting home. 

Who We Serve

Chronically Homeless

We focus on some of the most vulnerable individuals: those who have experienced homelessness the longest, who suffer from debilitating medical and mental health conditions, and who have established lives on the street, as opposed to seeking shelter and other assistance.

Low-income Working Adults

Critical to the success of Breaking Ground’s housing management model is our commitment to inclusive, mixed-income communities. Rather than being marginalized in quasi-institutional settings, our formerly homeless tenants live amongst a diverse group of low-income New Yorkers.

Veterans

Breaking Ground has long devoted considerable resources to addressing homelessness among veterans, who on average make up about 11% of our total client base. Significant progress has been made over the past decade to end veteran homelessness, and we continue to everything possible to reach that goal.

Seniors

Breaking Ground is increasingly housing older adults. Over the last five years, the senior population (62 and older) within Breaking Ground’s permanent supportive residences has grown to represent nearly 30% of our total resident population. We continue to develop senior-specific housing for vulnerable populations.

HIV/AIDS

With the stability of a secure home, Breaking Ground tenants living with chronic illness are able to access essential medications, manage their condition with regular preventive care, and address psychological issues that may contribute to the course of their disease.

Mentally Ill

Breaking Ground’s supportive housing offers a life-enriching alternative to both institutionalization and street homelessness. Hundreds of our tenants manage severe mental illnesses while living independently in our housing, with the support of on-site case managers and links to appropriate care.

Youth Aging Out of Foster Care

The Chelsea Foyer program, at Breaking Ground’s Christopher residence was the first in the city designed to serve young adults without family support. The success of this pioneering program led to the development of our second Foyer site at The Lee, in collaboration with The Door.

Families

Stable, affordable housing is essential for families to be able to grow and thrive. Park House, Breaking Ground's first affordable residence designed primarily for families with children, opened in 2017 in the Bronx. More than half of its 248 apartments provide two or three bedrooms. Our housing for families helps people coming out of the shelter system or those at risk of homelessness to find a stable and affordable home.

Leasing & Compliance

Fee for Service

Leasing and Compliance

With nearly three decades of experience, Breaking Ground can help even the most experienced developer navigate the complex regulatory requirements of federal and local programs that increase the supply of affordable housing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Supportive Housing

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What is supportive housing?

Supportive housing is permanent affordable housing for individuals who are formerly homeless and who have significant barriers to maintaining housing on their own such as severe and persistent mental illness, substance abuse, or poor physical health as a result of years spent without adequate shelter. The fundamental characteristic of this housing is that it includes access to on-site supportive services that sustain tenants on a path of long-term stability, including case management, social activities, and educational offerings that enhance their self-sufficiency and quality of life.

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What is “Housing First?”

Housing First is the philosophy that the first and primary need for a person experiencing street homelessness is to obtain stable shelter, and that other issues can best be addressed once inside. Breaking Ground is committed to this Housing First approach across our transitional and permanent housing resources. We provide supportive housing with as few barriers as possible. There is no requirement for housing applicants to be sober or participating in mental health services. We don’t ask applicants to demonstrate stability in order to live in Breaking Ground housing. We believe that housing, paired with wraparound supports, will empower each person to achieve stability. We have seen it over and over again: sobriety, improved health, and lives of dignity and security are within the reach for even those homeless individuals who have struggled for years with debilitating illness and substance use disorders. It all starts with a safe place to live, a door you can lock, and a bed to sleep in night after night.

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Who lives in supportive housing?

Supportive housing mainly serves those who have lived on the streets for years, including individuals with severe and persistent mental illness. It also to a lesser extent serves those who are the most likely to fall into homelessness, such as youth aging out of foster care and people with chronic health conditions such as HIV/AIDS. Breaking Ground’s buildings typically include a mix of supportive and affordable units. Affordable units are available to low-income working individuals (who most often do not have a history of homelessness) and provide an important community improvement benefit to the neighborhood in which the residence is located.

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Is supportive housing expensive?

Compared to the alternative of leaving someone outside on the streets, supportive housing is not only the most humane and effective response to chronic homelessness, it is also the most cost-effective. When someone lives outdoors, they frequently make disproportionate use of expensive public resources like emergency rooms, psychiatric beds, jails, and emergency shelters. A 2013 report by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene concluded that supportive housing saves the public approximately $10,000 per person per year.

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How long can tenants live in Breaking Ground’s supportive housing?

Breaking Ground operates permanent supportive housing, which means that each tenant holds a lease. All tenants may continue to live in our buildings as long as they meet the lease requirements (including rent payment and absence of disruptive behavior). In general, although our special needs tenants improve their lives markedly through the stability provided by supportive housing, many are likely to continue to require at least some level of safety net assistance within these settings for the rest of their lives.

Low-income tenants likewise also have permanent occupancy leases with Breaking Ground, again, under condition of essentially standard lease requirements. Many do choose to move on, however, when their incomes increase.

Our transitional housing programs do not impose time limits. On average, transitional housing residents stay approximately 9 months while on the path to permanent housing.

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How are supportive housing developments financed?

Financing for supportive housing is different depending on where the building is located and the resource commitments by that locale for this type of residence. In New York City, where Breaking Ground primarily operates, we rely on federal Low-income Housing Tax Credits to fund a large portion of capital costs to construct supportive housing. These sources are supplemented by City or State tax-exempt bond financing and by subsidy loans from public sources and in some cases from private sources, such as the Federal Home Loan Bank.

Typically, a supportive residence is majority-owned by the private-sector Low-Income Housing Tax Credit investor for 15 years, with a very small minority ownership by a General Partner controlled by the nonprofit developer/operator. Ownership is typically transferred from the investor to the nonprofit at the end of 15 years. Generally, public capital funding sources require the nonprofit to operate the residence as affordable supportive housing for 30 years.

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Who pays for the ongoing operation of supportive housing?

Supportive housing operations are typically paid for by a mix of sources. Like many forms of affordable housing for very low-income populations, supportive housing requires a combination of tenant-paid rents (most often capped at no more than 30% of the individual’s income) and public subsidies, such as HUD Section 8 vouchers, HASA (HIV/AIDS), or HUD-VASH vouchers (for veterans) to meet operating costs. The onsite supportive services for this type of housing are mainly paid by public grants and contracts and, to a lesser extent, private philanthropy.

The considerable cost savings of this type of housing to public sector budgets make its expense well worth it (see “Is supportive housing expensive?”).

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What is transitional housing?

Transitional housing is similar to permanent supportive housing in that it includes onsite services to enable stability in the lives of people who have experienced chronic homelessness. Here, though, services are acutely focused on helping each individual to secure permanent housing, including by helping people obtain benefits and gather the many documents required for housing applications.

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What is a Safe Haven?

Safe Havens are a particular type of transitional housing designed by the City of New York to accommodate homeless individuals who do not make use of traditional shelter and have experienced chronic homelessness.

Safe Havens are “low-threshold” resources: they have fewer requirements, making them attractive to those who are resistant to emergency shelter. There are no curfews and more privacy. A client can miss a night at the Safe Haven without losing his or her bed, as they would at a traditional shelter.

But the fewer restrictions do not signal a hands-off approach. Safe Havens offer intensive supports to address mental health and substance use disorders, with the ultimate goal of moving each client into permanent housing. Safe Havens are, thus, a crucial harm reduction/Housing First resource to enable the most entrenched chronically homeless who have extreme reluctance to leave behind their unsheltered lives to accept help.

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Does Breaking Ground operate emergency shelters?

No. We operate 3,500 (and counting) units of transitional and permanent housing for low-income and formerly homeless individuals.

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What is your Scatter Site program?

While the vast majority of Breaking Ground’s housing is in congregate settings (multi-unit residences), we also offer “Scatter Site” units that are rented in buildings operated by private landlords. Breaking Ground does this in order to add to the total number of units available for chronically homeless individuals. Scatter Site tenants also benefit from supportive services, meeting with support staff at our agency’s Scatter Site program office, at their apartment, or both.

Street Outreach

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When was Street to Home started?

The Street to Home model was pioneered by Breaking Ground and partner agencies in 2004 and adopted by the NYC Department of Homeless Services as a citywide strategy in 2007.

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Who is responsible for street outreach in New York City?

The City of New York is responsible for street outreach, through its Department of Homeless Services (DHS). DHS contracts with the following agencies to conduct around the clock street outreach:
- Breaking Ground in Brooklyn and Queens
- The Manhattan Outreach Consortium in Manhattan (Goddard Riverside Community Center, Breaking Ground and the Center for Urban Community Services)
- BronxWorks in the Bronx
- Project Hospitality in Staten Island

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How does street outreach work?

Outreach teams canvass the streets of a community day and night, 365-days per year to engage with each person they encounter who is or appears to be experiencing homelessness. Outreach staff ascertain current and historical factors contributing to an individual’s homelessness and connect them to supports - whether immediately to emergency services, shelter, drop-in centers, or to transitional or permanent housing

This is a very personal service, tailored to the needs of each street homeless individual. It often takes multiple - in some cases, hundreds - of interactions by an outreach worker to convince a street homeless person to join our caseload, which then allows them to begin the process of placement into transitional and permanent supportive housing.

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How does a person go from the street into housing? What are the steps?

Every person’s journey from the streets into permanent housing is different, depending on their situation, the challenges they face, and their willingness to work with us. Some individuals can be difficult to locate from one day to the next. Many suffer from severe and persistent mental illness and/or recurrent substance use disorder. They may be socially isolated and fearful of interacting with other people, including outreach workers. They may have a distrust of the "system" and the likelihood of ever finding stable housing.

Despite these challenges Breaking Ground’s street outreach staff persevere - connecting New York’s most vulnerable residents with safe, secure homes. The entire process can take weeks, months, or even years. Visit our page on street outreach to view the steps we follow to successfully help a chronically homeless individual secure housing.

Homelessness

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What is the difference between episodic, situational and chronic homelessness?

The majority of people experiencing homelessness in New York and across the United States are without housing due to economic circumstances, whether it be the combination of extremely low-wages relative and high housing costs, loss of employment, or some devastating financial calamity such as overwhelming medical expenses. Some people experience homelessness for other discrete reasons, such as domestic violence. In the above cases, these individuals and families are considered either homeless episodically or for situational reasons, and can often regain housing stability through a targeted, time-limited assistance plan. In fact, many individuals and families who experience homelessness have it happen just once in their lives, although some experience ongoing housing instability to a degree.

People experiencing chronic homelessness have considerably more complex barriers to housing stability than mainly financial concerns (although they have these as well). These are primarily individuals (rather than families), often living with serious and persistent mental illness and/or active substance use. New York State defines a person as chronically homeless if he or she has spent a year or more (continuously) on the streets (or in parks and/or in subways) or has had four episodes of homelessness in the last three years that add up to 12 or more months without shelter.

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What is the best way to help a homeless person in need?

Alerting homeless services to an individual in need of shelter is often the best way to help someone whom you know or believe is living outdoors. In New York City, the best way to do this is to call 311 and ask to for a mobile outreach team. Make sure to tell the operator that a person is street homeless and needs to see an outreach team. Outreach workers are mandated to respond to each such notification within one hour.

If someone appears to be in immediate crisis, however, please call 911 for emergency medical attention.

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Should I give money to a homeless person who asks for it?

Giving money directly to someone experiencing homelessness is a deeply personal choice. 

We believe the best way to help an individual overcome the fundamental causes of their housing instability is to consider giving to an organization that helps people experiencing homelessness.

Providing funds to trusted human services nonprofits with proven records of both responsible use of resources and consistently strong outcomes to help connect the homeless with housing and services is typically a more sustainable strategy to help homeless individuals and to address the problem of homelessness.

Contact us if you’d like to receive some of our outreach cards, which offer helpful connections to available resources for people living on the street. Chances are the people you encounter on the street know Breaking Ground or one of our outreach partners. But by making the connection, and giving an outreach card to them, you help reinforce the work of street outreach and give us another opportunity to engage.

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I am homeless and need help.

If you are experiencing homelessness on the street and need to see an outreach worker at any time, you (or someone on your behalf) can call 311 and ask for mobile outreach. An outreach team will visit you right where you are, on the street, within one hour. Make sure to provide an accurate description of yourself (or the person you're calling on behalf of) along with an exact location.

All referrals for Breaking Ground's transitional and permanent housing are made by a Department of Homeless Services outreach team or the HIV/AIDS Services Administration. Please call 311 or ask an outreach team to help you with a referral or to begin the application process.

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I am (or someone I know is) at risk of becoming homeless. How can I apply to your affordable housing?

Please visit our Need Housing page for more information on applying for our affordable units that serve low-income individuals and families.

If you are at risk of eviction or homelessness, we also recommend visiting a Single Stop resource center or an NYC Homebase location, where you can access legal and financial assistance to help prevent eviction or homelessness and get on the path to stability.

Getting Involved

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How can I help?

Charitable gifts are vitally important to Breaking Ground’s ability to deliver services to people experiencing homelessness, from street outreach, to transitional housing, to permanent supportive housing. Your gifts support the journey from street to home for our most vulnerable neighbors. Of course, there are other ways to support us as well.

Advocacy among your family, friends, peers and elected representatives is one of the most effective ways to help further the cause of supportive housing as an especially wise strategy to address homelessness. The more people from all sectors of society who know about the cost-efficacy of this model, the farther it can reach, and the more people we can help come off the streets and into housing for good.

Volunteering is also an excellent way to give back. Breaking Ground would not be able to hold anywhere near the number of tenant events that are so crucial to the healing and growth process for our formerly homeless residents, nor would we be able to conduct our annual census of street homeless individuals, if not for the gift of volunteer time, talent and energy.

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Why should I give to Breaking Ground? How will you use my donation?

Across our portfolio of programs, we strive to make the most responsible use of philanthropic resources. We will put your gifts to use helping people to overcome the barriers to accessing safe and stable housing, provide the services that enable people to maintain housing, and support the construction and operation of new housing for the most vulnerable New Yorkers.

We are accredited with the Better Business Bureau of New York and have consistently receive a gold rating from Guidestar.

Through the gifts of our generous donors, each year we are able to bring hundreds of homeless New Yorkers from the streets into the safety of housing. We use donors’ funds to pay for many costs of running our programs, including expenses not fully covered by government contracts. As just a few examples, these can include “move in kits” (sheets, blankets, pots and pans) for new homeless tenants of our housing, GPS technology used by our outreach teams, and skills-building programs, among many other valuable purposes.

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Do you have volunteer opportunities?

Breaking Ground various volunteer opportunities throughout the year, from serving meals to repainting tenant services areas of our buildings to providing administrative support to our program staff.

Please visit the Volunteer section for more information.

We also encourage young people in their 20s-40s to join Breaking Ground’s Junior Board, a group of young professionals who contribute their time, talent and resources to further our cause.

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Do you accept donations of clothing or furniture?

Our Junior Board regularly conducts drives for various items of immediate need to homeless clients, including hygiene and move-in kits, as well as new warm hats, scarves, gloves and socks in the winter months. We are generally, however, unable to accept items outside of these organized drives. Breaking Ground is not able to accept furniture. Nevertheless, if you believe you have items that would benefit us, please by all means contact us.

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Are you hiring?

We have more than 600 colleagues working to end homelessness. Please visit our Careers page to view our current employment opportunities.

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What are other resources to learn about supportive housing?

Some United States cities, counties, townships, parishes, etc. have one or more nonprofits that provide supportive housing for their area and these groups can offer the best contextual information on their services to address homelessness locally.

Nationally, the Corporation for Supportive Housing is among the most highly regarded resources for information on the supportive housing model, homelessness policy, and related matters.

Within New York State, our trade association for the supportive housing industry, with over 100 nonprofit members, is the Supportive Housing Network of New York. The Network offers a wealth of information about the benefits of this residential resource for communities and various special needs populations.

For issues having more broadly to do with homelessness across the United States, the National Alliance to End Homelessness is an excellent resource.

Breaking Ground versus Common Ground

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Didn’t you used to be called Common Ground? Why did you change your name?

Like many non-profits and other companies do at major milestones, for our 25th anniversary in 2015, we reflected on our organization - how far we’ve come and the great impact we have had on people in greatest need and on New York City. We also wanted to articulate future aspirations at this special time. After 25-years of developing groundbreaking solutions to homelessness, we changed our name to Breaking Ground.

The name reflects our history of building and restoring structures to house New York’s most vulnerable residents, it represents breaking the cycle of homelessness, and signals a new era of growth and renewed commitment to making New York City a better place for everyone who lives here, including those who are most vulnerable among us.