REACH Advocacy was born in 2015 when a group of citizens said NO to leaving the homeless out in the cold.
In 2014 the eviction of the homeless from their informal shelter in Midtown Garage, and the subsequent displacement and destruction of the Tent City set up in protest, precipitated a crisis.
Although a rough, warehouse-like shelter was arranged for that winter it was clear that more would be needed.
In 2015 the Rochester Emergency Action Committee for the Homeless (REACH) was formed with the mission of providing emergency winter shelter for those homeless persons who were unable to find shelter anywhere else. Thanks to dozens of volunteers REACH has been able to create and staff an emergency shelter for five Rochester winters.
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 as a way for us to become advocates with and on behalf of the homeless. But we soon realized that the need for low barrier temporary shelters would recur each winter.
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. Many of our guests were placed in permanent housing.
In late 2017, in response to a growing awareness of the role the lack of affordable housing in Rochester has in increasing homelessness, REACH began exploring ways to encourage and develop local supportive housing options. This soon became an initiative to develop a community of Tiny Homes. A possible site on St. Paul Street was soon identified; over the next few summers the site was cleared of overgrowth by teams of volunteers from local high schools, colleges, and churches. In parallel other REACH volunteers have been working 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 be able to continue to partner with Dimitri House to operate our REACH Home at 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 were able to house our 2019-20 low-barrier emergency temporary wintertime 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 the housing-deprived would be at high risk, and that 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 those most at risk was rapidly implemented. This effort continued through the summer of 2020 and following winter, transitioning half of residents to appropriate housing before it closed in early 2021. REACH also supported walking outreach programs working with the homeless in the Jefferson and North Clinton Avenue areas of the city during this period.
Looking ahead in 2021, the REACH tiny home effort continues to move ahead with site preparation, architectural and engineering planning, and fundraising. The continuing level of COVID infection precludes return to the original shelter model for this winter, but work continues on preparing 720 West Main as a community resource center, central facility to support a planned scattered-site shelter model, and eventual winter shelter space.