2004 Robin Hood Heroes: Ellen Baxter and Julissa Ventura

Robin Hood Foundation | 2004

Executive Director and Resident, Broadway Housing

By age 13, Julissa Ventura had been shuttled between seven different city shelters over the course of three years. When her mother died suddenly, Julissa had four younger siblings to care for and nowhere to go. Luckily, Julissa’s mother had applied to Broadway Housing for an apartment. Headed by Ellen Baxter, Broadway Housing provides permanent housing to the homeless as well as the social services needed to help them build sustainable lives. Ellen and her staff would not let Julissa get lost in the system. They connected her with her grandmother and moved the whole family into one of their buildings, providing them with an apartment on Riverside Drive.

Ellen Baxter founded Broadway Housing Communities in 1983 with the renovation of an abandoned building in Washington Heights. But her work as an advocate for the homeless began in 1979 when she walked into the women’s bathroom at Grand Central Station and came across dozens of women washing at the sinks and sleeping on cardboard. At that time in New York City approximately 35 homeless people died each winter night from hypothermia. Determined to change these staggering figures, she took her passion to the State Supreme Court who ruled that the city and state must provide emergency shelter to every homeless person. As a result, several shelters were opened and filled. But Ellen soon realized that just giving someone a cot wasn’t enough. Now, Broadway Housing includes six projects of permanent housing in the communities of Washington Heights and Harlem. Together, they hold 300 households.

The idea behind these structures is not only to provide shelter to the residents but to create a true sense of community. Childcare centers for resident and neighborhood children are located in the buildings as are educational, cultural arts and technology programs for both residents and community youth. Broadway Housing also strives to implement a sense of responsibility in all its residents by requiring them to take part in the management of the building in which they live. Broadway Housing’s tenant manager model, combined with its social services and educational programming, has made it a leader in housing for the homeless and has helped hundreds of individuals and families overcome disadvantages and permanently chart paths out of poverty.

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