Cooper Union expands units for the homeless

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A handful of homeless Rochesterians will now have a home at Cooper Union, a supportive housing complex run by the Volunteers of America. Seven units have been added to the 45-apartment building.

The units for the homeless are located on the ground floor of the building on State Street; the 45 apartments are on the upper floors. The $1.3 million project received $1.25 million from the state’s office of Temporary and Disability Assistance’s homeless housing and assistance program.

“Housing is a human right, and every year our agency provides more than 200,000 nights of shelter,” says Lynn Sullivan, president and CEO of Volunteers of America. “It is the very first step in helping individuals and families break the cycle of poverty and homelessness. Providing a safe, stable place for people to live allows us to also offer essential services to help people overcome the challenges in their life—such as finding employment and recovering from addiction or trauma.”

The new units at Cooper Union make use of vacant commercial space. In addition to housing, Volunteers of America provides on-site support services to help residents address health concerns, strengthen their self-reliance and improve their well-being, officials say. Homeless veterans will receive first priority for these units.

“Safe, affordable housing is essential and at the foundation of our community’s well-being,” says state Sen. Jeremy Cooney. “These seven new supportive housing units on State Street are a testament to what our community can accomplish when we work together. I am grateful to all the partners and notably to the Volunteers of America for making this project possible. I look forward to the positive impact these units will have on those who are experiencing homelessness in Rochester.”

From 2007 to 2020, total homelessness grew 33 percent in Monroe County.
Source: National Alliance to End Homelessness

On any given night, 815 people in Monroe County experienced homelessness last year; 152 of them were children and 86 were likely to be chronically homeless, according to Partners Ending Homelessness. Statewide, more than 91,000 people were homeless on any given night last year, the National Alliance to End Homelessness reports.

Total homelessness in New York jumped 46 percent from 2007 to 2020. In Monroe County, total homelessness grew 33 percent during that period.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, who announced the opening of the expanded complex last week, promised to continue to boost supportive housing options as New York recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The state Homeless Housing Assistance Program provides capital grants and loans to nonprofits and other eligible organizations to acquire, construct, or rehabilitate housing for those who can’t secure housing without assistance. So far this year, the program has allocated nearly $37 million to 12 projects that will create or preserve 378 units of supportive housing and repair emergency shelters throughout the state. Last year, the program provided funding to 30 projects that will add 881 units of supportive housing and repair emergency shelters.

Though the Cooper Union project is a step forward, curbing homelessness remains a challenge for Rochester and Monroe County. Some experts hope the influx of federal relief funds will help communities tackle the issue like never before.

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.

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