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Exclusive look at unique approach to help people experiencing homelessness in Coney Island

First of its kind program helping people experiencing homelessness
First of its kind program helping people experiencing homelessness 02:33

NEW YORK --  A first-of-its-kind program in Coney Island is helping people who are experiencing homelessness.

Jenny Medina, a mom of three, recently faced the biggest challenge of her life. 

"Because of my mental health, I kind of lost my job and I had no support system," she told CBS New York's Hannah Kliger. "So I turned into substance abuse... I was out of hope."

Medina estimates that she was homeless for more than a year. Now, she sits in her private room, her favorite book in hand. 

"This is my sanctuary. This is where I come to pray. If I have to cry, I come here to cry. This is a safe haven," she says.

For three months, she has been living in a nondescript building that houses Changing Spaces, a first-of-its-kind program that works to provide a new path to permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness. 

"One of the things that we try to do as soon as they come in is connect them to whether it's public assistance, apply for SSI, job readiness trainings, we connect them to medical services," explains Jeanine Williams, Program Director. 

The project was created by the Institute for Community Living and launched a year ago. Since then, Williams says it has served 30 guests referred by other agencies, seven of whom currently live in the building. Twenty three have transitioned into supportive or permanent housing. 

"The camaraderie that they build among each other is amazing. Even to this day, they visit each other in their homes. They come back to changing spaces, they visit us all the time," Williams explains. 

Recently, Bertony Georges came back to visit. He was referred to the program when he was homeless and in the hospital last year, struggling with his mental health. 

"A lot of homeless people sadly experience mental health issues and it impairs them, so that they're not working. So in a setting like this, it gives them a fresh start," Georges explains. 

Three weeks later, he had moved into a community residence in Williamsburg and was working to find employment. 

There are nine private bedrooms in the building, and the average stay is a couple of weeks. There are also plenty of shared spaces, like computer stations for guests to apply for benefits and search for jobs.

The program is a collaboration with the New York State Office of Mental Health. It is a place where residents are given new clothing and toiletries, but also work with counselors and case managers to jumpstart the next chapter of their lives. 

Have a story idea or tip in Brooklyn? Email Hannah by CLICKING HERE.

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