Building Resiliency through the Arts

Acacia Network Launches Virtual Arts and Wellness Series in Homeless Shelters across the City

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, Acacia Network –one of the largest providers of transitional housing in New York City– has launched a virtual arts and wellness series for children and families in the shelter system. The arts workshops are provided in collaboration with Loisaida, Inc., an affiliate of Acacia Network grounded in the Lower East Side, with more than 40 years of experience providing innovative programs in education, arts and culture, and community development.

“In addition to economic insecurity and homelessness, families in our shelter system are oftentimes beleaguered by multiple issues that further exacerbate their precarious condition, including prolonged unemployment, mental health disorders, or chronic illnesses,” says Ron Abad, Senior Vice President for Transitional Housing at Acacia Network. “Our goal at Acacia Network is to ensure positive outcomes for these families so they may secure permanent housing and achieve enduring stability.”

That is precisely why, as part of its continuum of care, Acacia Network provides an array of resources to families and individuals in its 56 shelters across the City, including one-on-one case management with social workers, access to primary and behavioral care, employment assistance, among other services. Last month, they introduced the Virtual Arts and Wellness Series to nurture the social-emotional wellbeing of families with children during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We believe in the transformative power of the arts,” says Alejandro Epifanio, Director of Loisaida Inc. “Our Virtual Arts and Wellness Series aims to provide families in our shelters with much-needed opportunities for recreation, creativity, and inspiration.”

The Virtual Arts and Wellness Program provides daily arts engagement opportunities through a variety of workshops with recognized teaching artists, reaching more than 30 families at a time through WiFi-enabled DOE devices. Ms. Field and her family –who reside at one of Acacia Network’s shelters for families with children– have taken advantage of the new virtual arts programming: “I love the program. It’s the best entertainment for my son.”

Recent data released by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene shows that black and Latinx/Hispanic individuals have been dying at higher rates due to COVID-19. According to the Coalition for the Homeless, black and Hispanic/Latinx New Yorkers are also the most affected by homelessness.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted Latino and black communities across our country and in New York City,” says Alfredo Matthews, Assistant Vice President of Acacia Network Housing. “We are committed to closing the gap in access to critical and integrated care that will not only improve the quality of life for the most vulnerable, but –on a very basic level– ensure their survival.”

To ensure positive outcomes for the clients served in its shelters and across other programs, Acacia Network has relied on the expertise of its clinical team, led by Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Collymore, in addition to the experience at its Federally Qualified Health Centers and skilled nursing facility, Casa Promesa. Dr. Collymore says: “Throughout this pandemic, we at Acacia have leveraged our integrated housing and healthcare resources, guided by best practices in our clinical approach to COVID-19. In several instances, we have found ourselves to be ahead of our counterparts, and even in advance of guidance from regulatory agencies.”

In addition, Acacia Network’s integrated approach to care and wellness has helped to ensure that individuals experiencing homelessness can come out of the crisis stronger. Take, for instance, a young couple with a 2-month-old baby who recently sought shelter at one of Acacia’s transitional housing sites in the Bronx. The couple had been unemployed for some time and, because they had just become parents, were unable to find jobs that would allow them to take turns caring for their child while the other partner worked. Acacia Network Employment Specialist Benny Sanabria edited their resumes, researched potential job opportunities, and secured interviews for the couple. Both of them were able to land new jobs, with alternating work schedules to fit their childcare needs.