More than 30 years ago, a nonprofit was launched in New York City to try to find permanent housing for chronically homeless people in Times Square. Now it has a national campaign that some people think could be an important first step toward ending homelessness in America.
Standing outside an elegant 15-story brick building in midtown Manhattan, Rosanne Haggerty, who runs the nonprofit Common Ground, recalls how it all began — how a former hotel became a model for housing the homeless.
“In the early ’80s, I lived right next-door to the Times Square Hotel,” she says. “It was back in the day when Times Square was Times Square, as we say — kind of a crazy neighborhood to say the least.”
The area was known mostly for peep shows and prostitutes. It was long before anyone dreamed that Times Square would become a family destination.
Haggerty worked with the homeless at the time, and was upset to find out that the hotel was about to shut down.
“It was the largest single-room occupancy hotel in New York City,” she says. “The building was practically on the verge of being condemned. It had 1,700 serious building code violations.”
Trash, mildew and crack vials were everywhere. But Haggerty, then 29, saw the potential. She says she thought it made a lot of sense to fix the building up so all of the homeless people outside would have somewhere to live. And she thought it would be good to provide services, like health care and job training, so people would be more likely to stay off the streets.