REACH Advocacy was born in 2015 when a group of citizens said NO to leaving homeless people out in the cold.
In 2014 the eviction of homeless people from their informal shelter in Midtown Garage and the subsequent displacement and destruction of the Tent City set up in protest precipitated a crisis.
A rough warehouse-like shelter was quickly arranged for that winter, but it was soon apparent that this was not a one winter problem.
In 2015 the Rochester Emergency Action Committee for the Homeless (REACH) was formed to provide emergency winter shelter for homeless persons who were unable to find shelter anywhere else. Thanks to dozens of volunteers, REACH has created and staffed an emergency shelter each year since.
In 2015-16 we housed almost 150 men and women at REACH Home on Prince Street. We successfully placed over 50 persons in permanent housing.
At the end of this experience, we reorganized as REACH Advocacy, providing a way to become advocates with and on behalf of homeless people.
In the winter of 2016-17, we opened our new emergency shelter on Ontario Street as BRIDGE Home. On average, we housed over 40 men and women per night during the winter and placed many of our guests in permanent housing.
In 2018, in response to a growing awareness of the lack of affordable housing in Rochester has in increasing homelessness, REACH began exploring ways to encourage and develop local supportive housing options. This exploration soon became an initiative to develop a community of Tiny Homes. A possible site on St. Paul Street was quickly identified. Over the next few summers, the property was cleared of overgrowth by volunteers from local high schools, colleges, and churches. In parallel, other REACH volunteers have worked through the legal and logistical challenges to make the community a reality.
In November 2017, in cooperation with Dimitri House Inc., and with the support of many volunteers, we opened a new REACH Home on Union Street for the winter of 2017-18. The Home closed the following April after hosting 115 male and 50 female guests, approximately 40% of whom transitioned to appropriate housing.
During the winter of 2018-19, we were fortunate to continue our partnership with Dimitri House to operate our REACH Home in the same location. Through the efforts of our social work team, more than 40% of our guests transitioned to permanent housing.
Thanks to the generosity of Brother Antonios and the Coptic Christian Community, we housed our 2019-20 winter shelter in their former monastery at 720 West Main St. With the help of our many volunteers, the shelter operated with great success from Thanksgiving 2019 until the COVID pandemic surge in early spring 2020.
By April, it became clear that many of our guests would be at high risk, and crowded shelters would provide an ideal environment for spreading the virus. With the support of the Monroe County Department of Human Services Emergency Housing Unit, a collaborative initiative to support hotel-based housing for people most at risk was rapidly implemented. This effort continued through the summer of 2020 and following winter, transitioning half of the residents to appropriate housing before it closed in early 2021. REACH also supported walking outreach programs working with homeless people in the city’s Jefferson and North Clinton Avenue areas during this period.
Looking ahead, in 2021, the REACH Tiny Home effort continues to move forward with site preparation, architectural and engineering planning, and fundraising. The continuing level of COVID infection precludes a return to the original shelter model for this winter. Still, work continues preparing 720 West Main as a community resource center, central facility to support a planned scattered-site shelter model, and eventual winter shelter space.