Serenity House Family Residence is the African American Planning Commission’s transitional (Tier II) housing program for homeless survivors of domestic violence. Serenity House officially opened its doors in 2004 as a place of refuge for survivors of domestic violence who have exceeded their maximum length of stay (90 days) in an emergency shelter. The mission of Serenity House Family Residence is to offer survivors and their minor children, a safe but temporary haven in which to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. The secondary goal of Serenity House is to prepare families for independent living, assist them in locating permanent housing within or outside the State of New York, and to offer a host of on- and off-site supportive services that will help empower victims and minimize the root causes of domestic violence.
Serenity House Family Residence is the largest transitional Tier II domestic violence shelter in Brooklyn, New York. Serenity House offers survivors (regardless of gender, race, culture, religion, ethnic background, or sexual preference) the opportunity to reside in a secured environment for up to six months or more, as needed. The program is culturally sensitive to allow families to feel immediately at home and to foster ethnic pride in children and family members. Serenity House is able to accommodate families including those with adolescent males and male head-of-household.
Serenity House is designed with a resident lounge, an infant care lounge (able to accommodate up to 11 infants, ages 0 to 3), childcare lounge (able to accommodate up to 22 children ages 3 to 6), a commercial kitchen for the preparation of infant and child care meals; an out-door children’s play yard, a children’s garden, an After-school lounge (able to accommodate children/adolescents ages 6 to 18), a computer and employment lounge, staff/resident conference lounge, and an on-site laundry facility.
Twenty-four hour on-site security is provided by trained security specialists. Additionally, the site's address, names and addresses of past or current residents are strictly forbidden to be disclosed, and are held in strict confidence. THIS POLICY ENSURES THE SAFETY AND CONFIDENTIALITY OF ALL CURRENT AND FORMER RESIDENTS.
In 1998, there were only three New York City-funded transitional Tier II domestic violence shelters serving the needs of all abused families in New York City. At the same time, we were being bombarded by a huge proliferation of domestic violence incidents brought to us by the media. These crimes, for the most part, were being committed by our sports heroes, our politicians, our law enforcement officers, our fathers, our sons, and our brothers. They were being perpetrated against our mothers, our daughters, our aunts, and our sisters.
Determined to make a difference and in light of the shortage of domestic violence shelters in New York City, AAPCI sought funding to develop a new transitional shelter for families fleeing domestic abuse.
AAPCI began with the identification of a suitable location. We then accomplished the following
Applied for and received a $5,500,000 soft cost and construction grant in 1999 under the NYS Governor’s Residences for Survivors of Violence Program (RSVP) initiative. The program was administered by the NYS Homeless Housing and Assistance Corporation
Purchased a series of contiguous vacant lots from a private owner and closed on the sale in 2000.
Completed construction in 2004. Serenity House becomes the largest transitional Tier II domestic violence shelter in Brooklyn.
AAPCI negotiates a per diem Operating Budget with the NYC Human Resources Administration
(HRA) – Office of Domestic Violence and Emergency Intervention Services (ODVEIS).
Serenity House officially opens on February 1, 2005, and the residence begins to accept families.
Operating and Social Service Subsidies:
NYC Human Resources Administration (HRA)
Individual & anonymous donations
Anonymous corporate donations
Number of Jobs Created: 36 positions.
PROJECT DESIGN & CONSTRUCTION ACTIVITIES
The primary challenge in the project design was to bring value to the neighborhood while giving dignity to the lives of the residents that the building was developed to serve. While the project is designed to serve homeless survivors of domestic violence with dependent children, there was consensus among AAPCI’s Board of Directors that the project need not look like a low-income residence.
The secondary challenge was to design a six-story building that would offer 40 independent living apartments comprising a mix of:
- 15 studio-apartments
- 20 one-bedroom apartments
- 5 two-bedroom apartments
Each apartment is designed to have its own full bath, full kitchen with refrigerator and gas range stove (unless an efficiency/studio), and includes an open living/dinning room space. All apartments are outfitted with infant supplies and baby-cribs, as needed.
AAPCI maintains an organizational commitment to utilize and patronize local and minority-owned businesses, subcontractors, suppliers, and especially construction labor. A General Contractor armed with a team of minority construction workers and women-owned subcontractors were selected through the sealed-bid process to undertake the development. This process fuels local economic growth and gives workers a sense of pride in their community’s revitalization.
The development of Serenity House accomplished the following:
- upgraded the landscape of the community,
- eliminated several contiguous blighted lots from the community which were previously used as a refuse and dumping ground,
- provides temporary housing with on-site support services for homeless families fleeing domestic abuse,
- created employment opportunities for community residents.
The development of Serenity House also encouraged home owners in the community, private landlords, and real estate investors to begin rehabilitating properties that had lain vacant for many years.
POST CONSTRUCTION CHALLENGES
Upon construction completion, we were faced with a new challenge – how to furnish all the offices and common space. Fortunately, JPMorgan Chase came to the rescue. It was closing one of its lower Manhattan offices. We applied for in-kind donations through its philanthropic program and were offered tens of thousands of dollars worth of office equipment and furniture – everything from fax machines, office tables and chairs, conference room tables and chairs, file cabinets, bulletin boards, and even garbage cans - many of them new.
The New York State Homeless Housing and Assistance Corporation provided a start-up loan at zero per cent interest to be repaid over a 10 year period. Funds were used to furnish all the apartments, provide residents with a “start-up” apartment kit, and to make State-mandated modifications to the new building.
THE OFFICIAL OPENING
Serenity House officially opened its doors to its first group of homeless survivors of domestic violence and their children on February 1, 2005, amidst very little fanfare. Executive Director, Matthew Okebiyi, cleared a path into the building and toward a hopefully brighter future for the many residents who will pass through our doors in years to come.
Hotline Phone Numbers
National Domestic Violence Hotline
National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline
In New York City ONLY
Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-621-HOPE (4673)
Crime Victims Hotline: 1-866-689-HELP (4357)
Rape & Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-212-227-3000
TDD phone number for all hotlines: 1-866-604-5350