“We are here to help!” That’s the message that Shanna Gonzalez, HSVS Vice President of Foster Care & Care Coordination, hopes the agency’s newly renovated mental health and medical clinics broadcast.
With a soaring reception area, blonde hardwood floors, organic-shaped fixtures, nature-inspired palette and graphic urban flourishes, the sun-splashed spaces housed in HSVS’s headquarters at 66 Boerum Place, Brooklyn, are eons removed from the previous clinics, which were functional but utilitarian.
“First impressions are key,” says Gonzalez, “and we want to give the impression that everyone is equal here, everyone is valued, regardless of socio-economic status. We want our clients to feel welcome and safe and comfortable—and want to return.
The new clinics underscore HSVS’s commitment to underserved populations and couldn’t be more timely, unveiled during Mental Health Awareness Month and in the wake of the severe mental and physical toll exacted by the COVID-19 crisis. The statistics tell the story: One in five New Yorkers experience mental illness, and Black, Latinx and Asian American New Yorkers are less likely to be connected to mental health services than white New Yorkers.
“The hope is that we’re providing people the resources—the quality of care—that they may not be afforded elsewhere,” says Gonzalez, who points out that having both the mental health clinic and the medical clinic in the same location offers unique advantages.
“Our vision is to offer collaborative treatment. It’s much more efficient, because mental health and physical health are often intertwined. Services can happen in real time, which allows us to be proactive instead of reactive.”
The clinics were reimagined by Gerner Kronick + Valcarcel, Architects, a firm with a track record and portfolio of stellar nonprofit projects, including Services for the Underserved (S:US), The New York Foundling and God’s Love We Deliver. For HSVS, GKV proposed to create a space “that is potentially provocative yet comfortable.”
Provocative? GKV Associate Principal Jutta Ishii explains.
“Prior to the renovation, you had to go through many hurdles of security and check-ins. There’s a need for safety but it can be quite intimidating, especially for clients who come in for mental health consultation. We opened the space up, removed doors, or—better—repositioned the secured doors. It was a bit of culture shock, but the space is more welcoming and inviting.”
A similar sensitivity to the clients led to the high ceiling in the reception area.
“A tall ceiling creates an open airy space that gives you room to breathe and improves creativity,” says Ishii. “A person can think more abstractly and has a greater sense of freedom as opposed to confinement. Higher ceilings also encourage problem-solving skills.”
In regard to the palette, Ishii says, “We wanted to give the therapy rooms a ’spa-like’ feel with natural but somewhat bright colors. The shapes on the walls are calming and natural to put your mind at ease and relax.”
As for the significance of artwork featuring repeating patterns of water towers and the Brooklyn Bridge:
“We are in Brooklyn after all, and we felt this was another way to give an identity and connect with the community. Even though HSVS is located throughout the five boroughs, 66 Boerum represents the heart and spirit of Brooklyn and gives the client a feeling of home.”