By: Danielle Larrabee, Compass House Board Member
In the United States, the issue of youth homelessness is a pressing concern that demands immediate attention. Among the various strategies to address this crisis, rapid rehousing stands out as a crucial intervention with many positive, proven outcomes. Rapid rehousing programs offer not just shelter, but a pathway to stability—providing homeless youth with vital resources and support to swiftly transition from the streets to permanent housing.
In Buffalo—where the issue of youth homelessness casts a sordid shadow amongst the glitter and gleam of the city’s resurgence—the need for rapid rehousing initiatives is extremely poignant. Enter Mark Mancuso, Rapid Rehousing Director of Compass House. We sat down with Mark and asked him about the current landscape of homeless youth in Buffalo and what the future holds for the Compass House rapid rehousing program.
Want to directly support the rapid rehousing program and all other Compass House services? Donate here.
When I went to visit Mark at the Compass House resource center, he was with a client making sure he was prepped with a bag of basic toiletries and a donated TV for his new apartment he was moving into. Mark is a kind and enthusiastic presence at the resource center and has ties to Compass House dating back decades ago.
“My first foray into Compass House was back when I was in college in my 20s as a volunteer,” Mark recalls. He loved it so much, he became a case manager after college for 6 years at the resource center. He left to pursue a career in human resources and spent over 20 years at Macy’s. “I never stopped enjoying helping people, even during my corporate years,” he said.
Mark stayed in touch with Lisa Freeman, the executive director of Compass House, the entire time he was away. He returned to Compass House in January of 2023 as a case manager and, only two weeks after being hired, was asked by Lisa to become director of the rapid rehousing program, which he enthusiastically accepted.
At the time of Mark’s appointment, the rapid rehousing program had about 40 clients and three case managers. Only a year later, the program has grown thanks to additional funding from various HUD-managed organizations. It now has 50 clients and Mark was able to hire another full-time case manager.
About the Rapid Rehousing Program
Rapid rehousing stands out as one of the most well-researched and effective strategies to set homeless youth on the path to recovery, offering not just immediate shelter but also comprehensive support. Upon entry to the program at Compass House, clients receive personalized case management, tailored to their unique needs and circumstances. The program assists in locating safe and affordable housing options, often facilitating connections with landlords and navigating the rental process.
“We meet the clients where they are,” Mark explains. He recalls one story where a client was set up in an apartment with a well-stocked pantry of canned foods. “I visited that client a few weeks later and he hadn’t touched the food in his pantry. Turns out he didn’t know how to get the food out of the cans. We immediately provided him with a can opener and showed him how to use it. I’ve learned to ‘never assume’ and make sure we are not only providing the ‘basics’ but also making sure our clients are set up for success wherever they are on their journey.”
During that journey, Compass House offers clients ongoing counseling, life skills training, educational support, and employment assistance to equip participants with the tools needed for self-sufficiency. Mark explains that this holistic approach ensures that the youth not only secure housing, but also develop the skills and resources necessary for sustained independence and success.
A Focus on the Mental Health Services
Mark spoke about one of the biggest challenges he is seeing in the youth of Buffalo: mental health.
“We are seeing an escalating mental health crisis among our youth who are seeking our services,” says Mark. “Many young individuals experiencing homelessness grapple with untreated or under-addressed mental health conditions, which often act as precursors to their housing instability. The lack of access to proper mental health care, compounded by factors like trauma, family conflict, or societal challenges, can contribute to the onset or exacerbation of mental health issues, making it harder for these youths to maintain stable housing situations.”
Addressing mental health concerns is pivotal to break the cycle of homelessness among youth. There is an immediate need for integrated support systems that cater to both housing stability and mental wellbeing. “We as an organization at Compass House are on the front-lines of this crisis,” Mark says. “We are doing everything we can to tackle this head-on, but this is also a deep societal issue that we all need to address at a fundamental level.”
What the Future Holds
Of course, Mark wishes all homeless youth would be housed in the city of Buffalo and beyond. But for him as director, he wants to see the Compass House rapid rehousing program support even more youth. “The need is there,” he says.
In the next few years, he hopes to grow the program so that 80+ youth are supported with rapid rehousing services. This would be achieved by pursuing more funding, applying for more grants, and, of course, increasing monetary donations to Compass House.
Mark also wants to provide landlord incentives to further the relationships they have already established with trusted landlords who understand the program’s importance. “I also want to explore a street outreach program to directly speak to homeless youth who may not know about our services,” said Mark. “I think that would really grow awareness directly to those who are in immediate need.”
How You Can Help
Homelessness is a real and prevalent crisis in the Buffalo region. This affects our community and the future of our city’s youth. Please consider offering support to Compass House and the rapid rehousing program in two ways:
Donate items: please review the list of items that Compass House needs on a continuing basis here. Mark stressed the need to furnish and outfit 50+ apartments for clients who, for many, only have the clothes on their backs when they come into the program.
Donate monetarily: Compass House is a not-for-profit organization that has worked with at-risk and homeless youth in the city of Buffalo for over 50 years. You can donate, anytime, to this well-deserving organization here.