Every other week roughly 30 men and women from New York’s single adult shelters gather at the Coalition to participate in our Client Advisory Group (CAG). Formed nearly two decades ago to help organize community boards of people living in homeless shelters, CAG has grown into a multi-faceted program based on advocacy, education, empowerment and socialization.
Each CAG meeting is facilitated by our Shelter Specialist who leads the group in a discussion about topics relevant to the members’ needs, such as Department of Homeless Services’ policies and procedures, voting rights, and more personal concerns, like ways to cope with the embarrassment and guilt that often come with being homeless.
The group also reviews issues that have arisen in the shelters. As the designated shelter monitor, the Coalition is responsible for making sure more than 70 shelters are up to code. CAG members serve as our eyes and ears, coming to us with a host of concerns, such as DHS staff threatening wrongful eviction from the shelter, inappropriate shelter placement, or being forced to enter a drug treatment program when they are in fact sober. CAG is also an opportunity for shelter residents to tell the Coalition about shelter cleanliness, extreme temperatures, crime and poor staff treatment.
Our shelter monitor coaches them on ways to deal with these problems, but more importantly, the roundtable style of the session gives other CAG members the chance to share how they have dealt with similar situations in their shelters, helping to give each member a valuable sense of purpose.
Outside of the meetings, CAG plays a central role in the Coalition’s advocacy efforts. In addition to heading shelter community board meetings and informing other residents about their rights, they join the Coalition at press conferences, rallies and marches – even going up to Albany in the middle of the winter to challenge government cuts.