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Stories of Impact



One year ago, New York City was emerging as the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. And with its arrival came unimaginable hardship. For Sandra, a Queens resident, the pandemic struck home: She was laid off from her job, lost her employer-sponsored health coverage for herself and her family, and then caught Covid-19 herself—ultimately requiring a hospital stay. Sandra worried not only about her and her family’s health, but how she would pay for the medical bills and rent. Enter the City of New York’s Public Engagement Unit (PEU).

Created in 2015 by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, PEU is pioneering a new model of government. Their core mission, which proved more necessary than ever during COVID-19, is to proactively help New Yorkers in crisis by connecting them with key city services. After Sandra lost her job and health coverage, she received a timely call from Betsy, a GetCoveredNYC Specialist, who worked for one of the six policy areas housed within PEU.

The PEU Specialist informed Sandra that there were city services available to people like her, like assistance with applying for health insurance, and offered to help connect her with a health insurance enroller. When Sandra was hospitalized with COVID-19, that same specialist stood by her, worked with her daughter to complete the phone enrollment process and walked her through each step of the process. Sandra now has health insurance and is on the path to recovery.

The Problem

Using campaign-style outreach tactics like phonebanking and canvassing, PEU Outreach Specialists provide New Yorkers with individualized support to help them navigate bureaucratic obstacles and get the help they need. But the Mayor’s PEU faced a big challenge as the crisis surrounding the pandemic grew:

How do you take proactive outreach with a personal touch and implement it virtually, at scale, in a city of nearly 9 million people?

PEU’s personalized approach to serving New Yorkers required a significant amount of staff time and capacity and the traditional approach of door-to-door canvassing proved difficult during a global health crisis.

The Solution

By incorporating peer-to-peer texting into their toolbox, PEU exponentially scaled their outreach without jeopardizing the quality of the support their specialists provide. With Hustle, PEU specialists gained the ability to quickly send thousands of personalized texts loaded with helpful information, unique links, essential deadlines, and detailed responses to questions.

Peer-to-peer texting has become the new handshake in a world still six feet apart.

Without the ability to meet in-person, many organizations like PEU leverage peer-to-peer texting to increase engagement rates through America’s preferred method of communication—text in the form of custom, personal, and non-invasive messages sent by real humans. PEU is able to reach audiences at scale and narrow massive lists for targeted follow ups.

The Results

Now more agile than ever, PEU is using peer-to-peer texting to easily reach New Yorkers for various projects, including:

  • Texting seniors in targeted, under-vaccinated zip codes to help schedule COVID-19 vaccination appointments.
  • PEU’s GetCoveredNYC, which helps New Yorkers enroll in health insurance, responded to the increased need for assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic. This increased their daily initial contacts five-fold.
  • PEU’s Tenant Support Unit were able to reach tens of thousands of New Yorkers who had requested rent-related assistance in the past to inform them about the State’s extended COVID Rent Relief Program, offer assistance on how to apply, and respond to detailed individual questions about this complex program using preloaded answers to frequently asked questions about the program.
  • PEU’s Home Support Unit, which helps New Yorkers experiencing homelessness find stable, long-term housing, were able to facilitate communication with landlords and brokers who can rent homes to families in need of housing.
  • PEU’s non-partisan DemocracyNYC initiative, which helps increase civic engagement throughout the city, were able to recruit poll workers, help New Yorkers register to vote, answer individual questions about where and when to vote in upcoming elections, and encourage voters to make voting plans.

Turning Talk into Action with Human-Powered Texting

"By allowing our team to efficiently scale outreach while continuing to provide personalized support, peer-to peer texting has helped us connect more New Yorkers to services: enrolling more people in the healthcare plan that meets their needs, successfully navigating complicated housing issues for more tenants, and increasing democratic participation in communities with historically low voter registration and turnout rates."

Adrienne Lever

Director of Public Engagement Unit
Mayor’s People Engagement Unit New York City

As the first compliant peer-to-peer texting platform built to drive continual engagement and action at scale, Hustle helps PEU and other progressive groups across the country expand and create positive change within their communities. Through custom text messages loaded with enriched information, PEU sparks curiosity, continues quality conversations, and strengthens long-term relationships with New Yorkers. Being a conversational tool dedicated to nurturing relationships, we are thrilled with how PEU continues to leverage Hustle technology to grow while helping New Yorkers traverse current times, especially with all the unforeseen circumstances ushered in by the explosion of COVID-19.

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