Jul 28 2016
By Mel Policicchio
New York City is home to more than 58,000 men, women and children living on the streets and relying on public sheltering systems for assistance. This pressing concern has always stood out to Rochelle Haynes, MPA-URP ’06, who is a native of the city. She has dedicated her career to eradicating homelessness and now works as chief of staff for New York City’s Department of Homeless Services.
After graduating from Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs, Haynes returned home to work for several governmental housing departments before joining the Department of Homeless Services. Each agency taught Haynes about a different touch-point in the low-income cycle, demonstrating the deep complexity of urban poverty and giving her an expansive perspective of the issues at hand.
The Department of Homeless Services provides services and shelter to much of the city’s homeless population. The department’s ultimate goal is to develop programs and provide aid to eliminate homelessness in New York City.
As chief of staff, Haynes leads and manages cross-functional initiatives geared toward improving operations and policies that will reduce homelessness, especially for veterans and families. For example, Haynes secures mental health funding and ensures that staff have access to management and leadership training.
Solving homelessness extends beyond ensuring access to affordable, quality housing. It also is important to develop accessible public benefits and programs, with employees who can assist those in need with finding a path towards self-sufficiency, Haynes said. One of her greatest challenges has been implementing reforms quickly enough for her clients to realize their benefits and remain a part of the program.
This challenge tests Haynes’ skills, as she often must work quickly to strengthen an agency’s infrastructure and implement new policies — all while being innovative enough to prove the program’s effectiveness.
Haynes credits her department’s success to her incredible team, each individual as dedicated and hard-working as the next. She also often employs the high-level problem-solving skills she developed at the School and stresses the importance of a policy background in government work.
“Those with an educational background in policy have the ability and tools to take the urgent issues of the day, define the problem, recommend strategies based on analysis and research and evaluate the outcomes of said approach,” Haynes said. “Individuals with those analytical skills are needed in local government because local government is on the front lines of the daily issues.”
In the midst of tackling problems at work, Haynes stays focused and determined by making regular visits to homeless shelters.
“Going to a shelter, viewing the living conditions, hearing the concerns of on-the-ground staff and listening to the stories of the individuals and families experiencing homelessness is where the heart of this work truly lies,” Haynes said. “Those connections inform decision-making and create the space where the concerns raised and the recommendations offered are part of the decision-making process.”
Considering her own experiences, Haynes urges anyone with a drive to combat social injustice to study policy.
“A policy background helps leaders at the local level make the decisions that will not only meet the immediate needs of the day, but also hopefully have a lasting systemic impact,” Haynes said. “When all is said and done, my hope is that I have added value and created a framework for how we do our work, how we show up and how we engage with and consider our clients' needs.”