Coalition Renews Client Advisory Group Organizing


Last month, the Coalition renewed our organizing work with homeless shelter residents with an expanded Client Advisory Group (CAG). For two decades CAG has empowered homeless New Yorkers in shelters to effectively advocate for themselves and others.

Every two weeks, CAG members meet in one of our large conference rooms to share experiences and advice, learn skills to organize fellow residents in shelters, and work to identify and improve problem conditions in their shelters. CAG is open to anyone currently residing in a shelter, including single adults, families with children, and adult families. The Coalition provides the space, food, materials, information, and guidance.

At the first two meetings of CAG in 2017, new members introduced themselves and learned about the Coalition’s services and programs from our Shelter Specialist Cynthia English and Crisis Intervention Program Manager Tony Taylor. They discussed how to search for permanent housing while homeless – a process that is very difficult and frustrating since many landlords illegally discriminate against those who have City vouchers to help them pay their rent. CAG members and staff also compared notes about the larger impact advocating for change can have on shelter rules and regulations as well as housing and homelessness policies.

cag_photoCAG members are encouraged to join the Coalition at press conferences and campaign rallies to give homeless New Yorkers themselves a more prominent voice in the public discourse about our city’s homelessness crisis. CAG also intends to have members organize site-specific Client Advisory Boards (CABs) in the shelters where they reside.

In addition to learning how to navigate practical issues – like what to do if you are not satisfied with case management services or food in your shelter – CAG members talk about the difficulties of daily life in a stress-inducing, bureaucratic system.

Cynthia, who leads each meeting and who was a member of CAG herself for several years starting in the 1990s, says that the group can be a place of growth, where homeless men and women learn how to tap into their own potential. She describes coming to CAG meetings at the Coalition as “a saving grace” during a time when she was moving in and out of shelters. For her, CAG offered validation of who she was as an individual.

“I want those in shelters to learn that they don’t have to be defined by homelessness,” Cynthia said. “And — that there is something great waiting for them beyond that.”

The next two CAG meetings will be at 5pm on Tuesday, April 4th and Tuesday, April 18th at the Coalition’s headquarters at 129 Fulton Street in lower Manhattan. Anyone currently residing in a NYC shelter is welcome and encouraged to attend.