Community Needs

Times Square isn't just bright lights and big business. In many ways, it's a microcosm of and a symbol for New York as a whole. There are people all around the city struggling with homelessness, mental health needs, and substance abuse issues — crises that have worsened throughout the pandemic and that have disproportionately impacted communities of color. Many of those vulnerable people have found refuge in Times Square. But how do we best help those individuals, who often have very negative experiences with welfare services and who all have different stories and needs?

That's where Community First comes in. 

Community First is a new initiative where navigators on the streets take the time to build relationships — and trust — with vulnerable people in Times Square, with the goal of addressing problems incrementally, learning what is preventing people from accepting services, and then ultimately helping them access what they need.

How Community First Works

Community First focuses on building trusting relationships and meeting people "where they're at."

  • Community Navigators from Midtown Community Court provide clothing, socks, PPE, blankets, food, and other essentials as they begin engaging individuals in conversations around their needs — letting community members define what help means to them.
  • Depending on their responses, the Community Navigator team will then work closely with staff from the Times Square Alliance, Breaking Ground, and Fountain House to facilitate connections to social and health services.
  • Additionally, Community Navigators also work to provide community members in need with services that may be difficult if not impossible for them to access, like bathroom facilities, general wellness support, haircuts, showers, and laundry services.

The time spent building trust with community members in need results in those individuals confidently engaging in critical services with greater chances for long-term success. It may take many repeated engagements before someone will agree to access services, but one of the goals of Community First is to be out there for the long-haul to see people get help when they are ready.

Our Partners

At the Times Square Alliance, we've spent decades on the ground in Times Square; we know the place, the people, the conditions, and the changes. Times Square is a unique spot, but we know that if something works here, it can work everywhere.

We partnered with three other organizations on Community First, each with their own important area of expertise. Breaking Ground provides permanent housing and transitional resources for people experiencing homelessness; Fountain House operates innovative community-based direct service programs and wrap-around services such as housing and healthcare for people living with serious mental illnesses; and the Midtown Community Court seeks to reduce incarceration through community-based interventions.

Community First is a collaboration between the Times Square Alliance, Midtown Community Justice Center, Fountain House, and Breaking Ground. Support for Community First is provided by the New York City Department of Social Services, Amazon, and New York City Council Member Keith Powers.