ROCHESTER, N.Y. — ​REACH Advocacy’s mission started about six years ago, "to shelter folks that were having a hard time in other shelters and/or staying out on the streets," explained Co-Chair Andy Carey.


Every winter, the group builds temporary shelters, but that had to change in March with COVID-19 hit the area.

"We needed a safe way to socially distance people and hotels were the way to go," said Carey.

The new, COVID-friendly model is bringing peace of mind to about 40 residents at the Roadway Inn, including Jesse Smallwood.

"I actually enjoy it," Smallwood said. "You’ve got more space. You've got your own room [and] your own privacy."

Smallwood has worked with REACH from the start, having been homeless for about 20 to 30 years. And, with support services and meals provided on site, he’s able to continue working toward his goal of becoming independent, despite the pandemic.

"REACH is a beautiful organization if you give it a chance, because a lot of us…we come, dust off, clean up and think we’ve got it all together. And, we step out and really don't have it all together," Smallwood explained.

This new model has seen hundreds of residents housed at various local hotels with zero COVID-19 cases so far. REACH has partnered with Monroe County, receiving some CARES Act funding and emergency housing money to purchase hotels rooms. It has also partnered with the city and several local organizations including House of Mercy, Open Door Mission, and United Way. Carey sees it as a win-win situation in more ways than one.

"People get to keep their jobs, stay in business, and we get to shelter folks," he explained. "And, they can be with our social workers and really work on what they want to do."

"I'm looking for a little identity," Smallwood shared. "I'm looking for a little give back, so to speak. Because, I've been immensely helped and through the process, I want to give back to my peers as well as the people that helped me."

Learn more about REACH Advocacy by clicking here.