All too often when homelessness is discussed in the halls of power, the biggest authorities on the problem—people who have actually been homeless—get left out. So it was a big deal when Pat Johnson, a resident at our Senate supportive housing residence, testified at a New York Assembly Committee on Social Services hearing on the issue last month.
“Who am I? I am a new lady with big dreams. I am sweet, funny, kind and lovable. I just want everyone to treat me like I treat them,” said Johnson.
“I was homeless for over 40 years in the street. And thanks to Goddard Riverside and CUCS—they rescued me.”
Goddard and two other agencies—the Center for Urban Community Services (CUCS) and Breaking Ground—work together to offer homeless outreach services throughout Manhattan.
Johnson explained that when she was unhoused she used to stay in Upper Manhattan, “wherever there was a vacant lot.” When she was first approached by our teams, she was reluctant to engage. “I was very stubborn. I didn’t want to go indoors. I guess because I was on drugs and I wasn’t ready,” she said.
“I didn’t understand, why do you want to talk to me? But they were determined.”
Johnson began working with the team. Six years ago she moved indoors. Now, she added, “I can walk the streets with my head held high”—in the same neighborhood where she once struggled to survive.
Goddard’s outreach director, Jennie Drossman, testified alongside Pat. She called for increased housing to address the homelessness crisis, particularly individual apartments—”shared housing is not an option for many clients for health, safety and personal reasons,” she explained—and “safe use” housing for substance users. She also called on the city to raise the rate of pay for outreach workers.
“Many staff struggle with housing instability due to low salaries—even as they work with the folks that are also housing unstable,” she said.
Committee Chair Linda Rosenthal represents part of the Upper West Side and has worked closely with Goddard for years on housing issues. She thanked Johnson for appearing and noted that her own apartment is just a couple of blocks from The Senate.
“Sometime in the next little while we’re going to meet and go to the pizza store down the block, okay? So we can hang out and talk more about anything you’d like,” said Rosenthal. “I’ve heard a lot about you and how much you’ve achieved and I think it’s a testament to your resiliency.”
Johnson readily agreed and added that she’s about to put another achievement on her list: she’s getting her high school diploma. With that, the room burst into applause—a fitting end to a triumphant appearance.