At the Downtown Y, Critical Work Continues Amidst Fear and Uncertainty

Harlie delivers mail to residents

On the best of days, the work that happens around the clock in the Men’s Residence at the Downtown Syracuse YMCA is fraught with complex and difficult circumstances. The Residence staff work around the clock with men coming from a variety of paths: incarceration, homelessness, substance use disorder, and more. The Downtown Y is a critical step to rebuilding their lives – providing safe and secure low-cost housing so they can focus on their wellness.  

The current situation, however, is very different. The coronavirus pandemic and resulting shutdown of the facilities of the YMCA of Central New York, along with other businesses and services, has created a crisis. “We serve an often forgotten and ignored population,” shares Harlan Dunn, Residence Director, “and it feels that way now, more than ever.”  

Dunn explains that one of the biggest challenges of the Men’s Residence is being able to enforce social distancing. There is only one elevator, six bathrooms, and three kitchens for 85 residents to share via three-foot-wide hallways in the single room occupancy residence housing within the aging building.  

Along with keeping the residents safe, the essential staff continuing to work at the Downtown Y are concerned about what could happen if a case of COVID-19 is found in the building. Because of the limited space, quarantine planning is not ideal and there are continued concerns about a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff and residents.   

Angela collects rent

Most of the men who were employed have also lost their jobs. “We are trying to work with each individual,” said Dunn. “A majority will maintain a steady income thanks to public assistance, SSI, and SSDI but we are assisting others in filing for unemployment and working out payment plans if needed.” Dunn noted that as the Section 8 office at the Syracuse Housing Authority is closed, the subsidies the men often receive are frozen in place and based on their previous income. All these factors will impact the revenue for the Downtown Y for many months to come, along with the significant financial impacts the larger organization is facing due to member holds and cancellations as the branch facilities remain closed.  

Angela Alvarez, Residence Service Coordinator, points out that the men are having difficulty keeping their spirits up and maintaining a healthy mind and body while isolating. “We as staff try our best to provide them with suggestions on things to do, but there is only so much.” Alvarez provided a list of items that can be donated to the Residence food pantry, but also added a list of possible donations to help the men pass the time. "Items I would include right now would be jigsaw and crossword puzzles, word search puzzles, colored pencils, adult coloring books, and small-space exercise items such as yoga mats, resistance bands, and stability balls.” Donations of homemade masks are also encouraged.  

Dunn is quick to mention the Y staff that he feels are “courageous,” giving time and energy to support the residents, not only with customer service, but also emotional support. “I am grateful for my teammates that have truly demonstrated the Y’s mission, even in the toughest of times and circumstances.”

Residence Donation Need List



  • Harlie Wise, Residence Case Manager, delivers mail to some of our residents.
  • Rather than having tenants come to the Residence Office, Residence Service Coordinator Angela Alvarez, is meeting tenants at their door for rent payments and package delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic.