Unity House CEO seeks help with challenges, opportunities in 2024

Thank you for being among Unity House’s supporters. In this new year, we’ll need your help more than ever to empower people with disabilities. That’s why I want to share with you the major challenges and opportunities ahead.

Our greatest challenge remains staffing. Because state funding for our work has fallen behind inflation for well over a decade, we have been unable to pay our Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) what they deserve. As a result, we continue to face a DSP vacancy rate around 35%. Still, our dedicated DSPs bring hope and joy every day to more than 700 people with significant challenges – people with developmental disabilities and people working to overcome addiction and other mental illnesses. Our employees are tenacious and resilient. I could not be more proud.  

Thanks to our good relationship with employees, sound fiscal management and a small funding increase from the state, we were able to seal a new four-year union contract this fall that guarantees wage increases over the next two years. We’re also helping our DSPs earn credentials that boost both their skills and their wages. And Unity House’s employee wellness program, paid time off and other benefits remain among the best in our area.

In 2024, we’ll be looking for new ways to show our employees that their work is valued. We could use your help. Unity House is a lead member of two statewide campaigns that are urging state leaders to provide funding to pay DSPs a fair wage. By visiting the Bring it Home campaign website, you can add your voice to the call to adequately fund mental health housing programs with just a few clicks. Similarly, the New York Alliance Action Center website allows you to easily send messages urging state leaders to fund programs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

In the midst of our staffing crisis, the need for our work has grown.

There’s a huge gap in our community: lack of support for mothers recovering from substance use disorder. That’s why we’re tripling our number of supported apartments for mothers in recovery. Today, up to six women who have successfully completed in-patient drug treatment can live with their young children in our apartments. But we know the need is much greater than that, so we’re developing plans to build an innovative new program. It will be designed around the needs of mothers and other women in recovery, as well as their young children.

To address these needs and others, we’re investing in relationships. Stronger ties with foundations and companies in recent years have resulted in new grants and sponsorships. Again for 2024, Beardsley Architects + Engineers has chosen Unity House as the beneficiary of its annual charity golf tournament in August. Stronger relationships with people like you have resulted in 40% more donors and 70% more money raised in 2023 than in 2021. We now have an endowment fund and a volunteer Planned Giving Advisory Council to help our supporters include Unity House in their estate plans.

Unity House is dedicated to empowering people with disabilities. Staying true to our mission requires us to overcome the challenges and to take advantage of the opportunities I’ve described in this message. I know we can’t do that without you. Please reach out to me. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how Unity House can better deliver on its mission in 2024 and beyond. Click here to send me a message or to make sure you get our new e-newsletter.


Elizabeth Smith, CEO