Hope is a mysterious force. It is less of a thing and more of an idea, but the power that it holds is undeniable. Hope is the thought that “I can,” rather than “I can’t.” It is a critical part of the human experience because it is what sustains us during difficult times. This is the story of a man who has found hope after surviving for years without it. This is the story of Mark McCoy.
Mark used to have a family, a wife and kids to come back home to. However, Mark has had a long struggle with substance abuse that began before he had a family to call his own. The fallout from his continued use of substances eventually drove a rift between himself and the rest of his family. They left him more than 20 years ago, and his path in life has since been a lonely one.
Mark lived on the streets alone for years. He continued to struggle with his substance abuse as well as his physical and mental health. He visited Hartford’s own St. Francis Hospital and Hartford Hospital emergency room 59 times in 2017. Mark was also incarcerated often, and was traumatized by his experiences while imprisoned. Due to his trauma, Mark became fearful of the crowded homeless shelter environment. He instead slept outside or frequented emergency rooms for some form of sanctuary. Throughout all of these trials and tribulations, Mark remained lonely. “I just got used to being alone.” For the last several years, Mark never slept in one place for more than 5 days in row. As a result, it was very challenging for him to make lasting connections with providers who could work with him towards stable housing.
After years of living on the streets, Mark felt that he could barely call his lifestyle ‘life.’ “My life was going downhill. I was just existing…nothing else.” Signs of change for the better finally came in the form of Mary Jo Capitani, a Peer Recovery Specialist from Beacon Health Options, and Journey Home’s own Kelly Gonzalez. Mary Jo, for years, worked to address Mark’s needs as a human being. She began with his long-term isolation and loneliness. As a peer, she met Mark on his terms to help him with his recovery. Similarly, Kelly worked with Mark to prepare him for housing, guiding him through the system and convincing him that he could make it. While Mark had lost all hope for himself, Mary Jo and Kelly made it clear that they believed in him. Mark noted that “they helped me to believe. I never did. They didn’t give up…on me.”
Mark was a member enrolled in the North Central Region Community Care Team (CCT), a work group of healthcare and housing providers. The CCT meets regularly to create coordinated care plans for patients facing challenging health issues. Because of Mark’s enrollment in the CCT, Mary Jo, Kelly and his other providers were able to regularly communicate with each other and make sure that he did not fall through the cracks as he moved from place to place across the state.
Despite the challenges, Mary Jo and Kelly never gave up on Mark. They continually encouraged him to seek shelter, followed him around the state, and did not allow him to disengage from services despite his many attempts to do so. Mary Jo’s and Kelly’s investment in Mark helped him enabled him to stay the course. Finally, four days before Christmas of 2017, Mark was able to turn the keys and walk into his first home in many years. He has since been connected with a primary care provider and a therapist for his physical and mental health. With these great accomplishments marking the end of his homelessness, Mark dared to do what he hadn’t in years: he began to believe in himself again.
Mark’s renewed sense of hope has had incredible effects on his lifestyle. His new, stable connections to primary care services have helped him to manage his physical and mental health with a newfound degree of independence and effectiveness. A testament to his recent growth is how he has drastically reduced his reliance upon emergency departments. While he visited the St. Francis and Hartford Hospital emergency departments a combined 59 times in 2017 before being housed, he has only been to the Hartford Hospital emergency department once in the four months since getting the keys to his own place.
Mark’s apartment is a refuge for him to call his own. It’s a quiet place of rest, as he calls it. With his newfound sense of security, Mark has begun making efforts to help those who are still walking the path of homelessness that he knows so well. For example, Mark has been both a recipient and a donor for Journey Home’s Making a House a Home program (MHH). Soon after he received furniture from Alison Scharr, MHH’s coordinator, Mark facilitated the donation of some mattresses from a local hotel that he had been working for. He has also been volunteering with the Greater Hartford Harm Reduction Coalition, where he hopes to use his experiences to help give hope to those still experiencing homelessness and are seeking recovery.
As the next chapter of Mark’s life unfolds, one thing is clear: his future is brighter than it has been in years. Mark’s rekindled hope and the positive impact that it has had is apparent to all those who have been working with him through his recent trials and tribulations. Mark’s new apartment, his greater connectivity to healthcare, his reduced dependence on emergency rooms, and especially the smile and laughter with which he now greets others are all the kinds of change that we aspire to provide for clients here at Journey Home. People like Kelly, Mary Jo, and Alison are the kind of people that make these ideals a reality. We couldn’t be more fortunate to have such wonderful staff here at Journey Home, and collaborators at our partner agencies.
In our job as Realtors, we help our clients buy, sell and rent on a daily basis. We work with people in all stages of life. It’s certainly rewarding seeing their happiness when a successful sale or rental occurs. But nothing prepared us for the rewarding experience of assisting families and individuals helped by Journey Home. Families who previously had NO home. Making a house a home is a group effort, and we feel lucky to be able to participate.
We began a few years back on a smaller scale, collecting items needed for individual clients. So many of our Coldwell Banker agents were happy to help fulfill these lists. We were also lucky to be able to reach out to our clients who perhaps were downsizing or cleaning and could provide some of these items as well. We were very successful in being able to complete these lists of needed items and personally deliver them to the Journey Home clients in their new homes.
Not that long ago, we learned of the Home Makeover projects Journey Home was starting, and we jumped right on board. Not only did we collect what items were needed, but a team of our agents, along with friends and family, took part in our first amazing home makeover for a wonderful family. We cleaned, decorated, moved and put together furniture, stocked cabinets and drawers. We hung pictures, hung clothes and turned bare rooms into warm inviting spaces for the children and for their parents. We created space where families could have meals together. We were hooked! The joy and amazement we witnessed when the families arrived HOME was heartwarming and moving!
Just last month our team participated in another makeover and we are scheduled for one in June.
We help people find homes every day in our job. The opportunity to help end homelessness in this way takes us to a whole new level and we couldn’t be happier to be a part of it.
Journey Home’s staff has been hard at work over the last few months. When you’re moving as fast as we are in Connecticut it can be all too easy to get caught up in the day-to-day work and have trouble seeing the bigger picture. While we are deeply involved in the daily systems work of ending homelessness, it’s important for us to always keep abreast of success that others are having and learn from our peers across the country.
To participate in some of that learning, I was recently able to volunteer at and attend a recent conference hosted by the National Alliance to End Homelessness in sunny Los Angeles. I’ve never been to the west coast, and was excited at the chance to learn about best practices somewhere so different from Connecticut. In my role as a volunteer I had the opportunity to greet and register guests as they arrived, and more excitingly, I got to speak with many of the panelists — folks who are leading the nation in good work.
I attended panels on data collection and management, how to improve partnerships with child welfare systems, racial equity in homeless service programs, and working with survivors of sex trafficking. I learned about the kinds of questions we need to ask our system (we’re asking most of them). I learned about the common issues that prevent family welfare providers and homeless service providers from collaborating, and how to overcome them to jointly support homeless families.
But what I learned outside of the panels and the formal presentations was the most impactful. Every morning I had a two-block walk to get to the conference. In the course of those two blocks, there were no less than a dozen individuals sleeping outside, on the streets of Los Angeles. Skid Row, the infamous tent city of Los Angeles was nearby, too. The scope of homelessness in this part of America, where the weather is more welcoming, was completely overwhelming to me. The City of Los Angeles has declared homelessness an epidemic, and last year a referendum vote in Los Angeles showed that the constituents felt the same. Housing is so unattainable for so many thousands of people, and the work that we are doing across the country is important, but it isn’t enough. Because of the strong collaborations that Journey Home supports, unsheltered homelessness in our community is rare, and as soon as someone is identified as living on the streets we quickly connect them with an outreach worker to support them.
Being in LA was certainly a daily painful reminder of the injustice of housing inequality, the need for affordable housing, and the absolute necessity of having a system that works effectively to immediately support people experiencing homelessness. Housing is a human right, and we as a country can do better. We must do better.
Here in Connecticut we have ended chronic homelessness among veterans, and we have very nearly ended chronic homelessness for all. As we pivot our work at Journey Home towards ending homelessness for families and youth, ongoing teamwork is going to be essential. Our progress has made a lasting impact on the community around us, but there’s still a lot of work to do. One speaker I saw reminded us that it is impossible to end homelessness without collaborating with our partners, the child welfare system, behavioral health programs, hospitals, churches, schools, and friends in the community. But ending homelessness is less expensive than letting it continue, and if we keep up our current work it is a goal that we believe is achievable.
Working in silos is one thing we at Journey Home see as a hazard to productivity and success. Our Making a House a Home program is no different. Therefore, we are currently looking into some of the ways we can work together and see more success to help our clients in need. This includes our recent partnership with A Hand Up. We have been working together for a few months now and things are going great. The two programs are communicating with each other to make sure we are not duplicating our efforts, to refer donations to each other, share volunteer opportunities, and are beginning the process of combining waitlists. With this effort, it is our hope to get the furniture to clients more quickly, help pick up at donor’s houses on a more regular basis, and ideally condense our waitlists so that when we receive a request for furniture we can fill it within that same week. There is still a lot of work to be done, but by working together, we are on the path to achieving more success and helping more of our new neighbors get back on their feet. Additionally, we at Journey Home we are working on creating new forms for donors, clients, and case managers to try and simplify and expedite the processes of picking up and delivering furniture. We are looking into ways to spread the word about the work of our furniture program and our efforts with A Hand Up, and hoping to improve our referrals process to furniture programs in Greater Hartford and around the state in order to refer clients and donors to the appropriate programs.
At Journey Home, we are always talking about partnerships. We are fortunate to have so many dedicated partners in our region; with whom we work every day. The same can be said about our annual gala, Home is Where the Heart Is. With the help of our many partners, we raised over $192,00 to help END HOMELESSNESS.
On Friday, February 9th, in the twinkling CityPlace Atrium, over 325 guests gathered to enjoy delicious New Orleans-style food by Max Downtown, which included seafood gumbo and jambalaya. Litchfield Distillery and Hartford Flavor Company were on hand with tastings of their small-batch beverages. For those with a sweet tooth, NoRa filled an entire table with their adorable mini-cupcakes. As guests enjoyed their signature cocktails, surveyed auction items, and spun for wine prizes, Powerstation Events kept everyone going with lively music, beautiful uplighting and a fun photo station.
We were so lucky to have, as our Mistress of Ceremonies, Renee DiNino of iHeart Radio. Renee is one of the most community-minded individuals that you will ever meet, constantly working to help our four-legged and two-legged friends, in all of Connecticut. Our guests enjoyed mingling with Renee throughout the evening, and she did an amazing job helping us to exceed our fundraising goals.
With the help of these partners, our incredibly talented Journey Home staff, and our generous guests, donors, and our sponsors, our Home Is Where the Heart Is gala has exceeded all expectations once again. We couldn’t be happier to hear that so many people love coming to our gala, as it takes so much hard work, and benefits so many of those in need. A multitude of thanks goes to all who volunteered at our event, especially the HYPE crew, and of course our amazing and talented gala committee, as they work tirelessly for months to create such a unique and special night. We can’t wait to see what they come up with for next year! See you then!
We have previously shared with all of you, our friends and supporters, about the great work at Mercy Housing and Shelter Corporation’s Diversion Center. We wanted to be sure to update you on the work and progress of the Diversion Center. What is happening over there is incredible. As a system, we are addressing homelessness in a much different way. The work of the Diversion Center is proof of that. We asked one of their board members, Don Shaw, if we could share an article he wrote about the Diversion Center. Interestingly enough, Don also served as an analyst in developing “Hartford’s Plan to End Chronic Homelessness by 2015”; and he represented Hartford Area Habitat for Humanity in the development of a subsequent implementation plan called “Journey Home — The Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness in the Capitol Region”
On July 5, 2016, Mercy Housing and Shelter Corporation (Mercy) welcomed its first clients to its newly created Diversion Center at St. Elizabeth House on Main Street in Hartford. Faced with diminishing federal and state financial support for Mercy’s long-established transitional housing programs, Executive Director Dave Martineau, now retired, and current ED Judith Gough led a nine month multi-organization collaboration to develop an aggressive “up front” program designed to immediately divert people away from homelessness.
The Diversion Center’s goal is to find its clients safe, stable housing rapidly. “Nearly thirty percent of people in this situation [of being homeless] can be diverted from this tragic outcome with minimal mediation,” according to Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness workshops. “Often the solution can be overcome with little or no money to reverse the events leading to homelessness,” saving Hartford and Connecticut thousands of dollars.
According to Stephanie Corbin, Mercy’s Shelter Diversion Coordinator, the diversion process is best described as highly responsive “front door triage.” It provides personalized solutions with accompanying emotional support aimed at mitigating the problems leading to a client’s crisis. It’s all accomplished at the Center in centralized coordination with several Hartford based agencies serving the homeless, including Journey Home, the Salvation Army, Community Health Resources, and the City of Hartford. Corbin emphasized that the key to successful client outcomes is case manager creativity. The solution for each client must address the direct question, “What do we need to do right now to keep you out of the shelter system?”
To counsel people in crisis quickly and directly, a collaborative team of case managers from Mercy, the Salvation Army, and Community Health Resources staff the Center every week. People seeking the Center’s support first call the 211 Infoline, which initially assesses the caller’s need for services, and then, as deemed appropriate, schedules an appointment for them to see a Center case manager within 24 to 48 hours.
Opened just twenty months ago, Mercy’s Diversion Center is still in its formative stage, yet its results to date are encouraging. In fiscal year 2017, 2,577 individuals were seen by a case manager. During that period 456 were diverted from homelessness, sixty-two of whom were between the ages of 18-24, and 124 required limited financial assistance that helped them avoid homelessness. Further, 1,244 people, whose cases were not readily resolvable, were referred directly to city shelters, and the remaining group were either referred to other area programs, or were deemed ineligible for assistance.
With one full year of experience, and a second well underway, the Diversion Center has charted a path for other agencies serving the homeless to follow, and to improve upon collectively. It’s a path the Connecticut Department of Housing strongly endorses. It’s a path leading to life saving diversions.
Community Renewal Team (CRT) is a non-profit community action agency dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty. CRT has a proven record of helping women. Last year 59% of CRT’s 86,067 clients were women and 31% of the families served were headed by single mothers. Their mission is to help even more women by developing the Women’s Empowerment Center that will mentor women for personal, career and economic success. CRT’s experience in working with families has prompted them to open a Women’s Empowerment Center to enable women to help them establish economic stability and be successful in their careers in order to provide for themselves and their children.
In December of 2017 CRT hosted a focus group with women from Hartford to better understand how the Women’s Empowerment Center can serve low-income women. These women shared insights in to the barriers they are experiencing to providing for their needs as well as the needs of their families.
Based on this they have developed a three-pronged approach to their vision:
- A hotline for the Women’s Empowerment Center will serve as a safe and open place for women from Hartford and Middlesex counties to access services that CRT provides.
- In the coming year CRT’s Women’s Empowerment Center hopes to take applications from women across the Greater Hartford region to be in a pilot class of 10 to 20 women. These women will receive case management services from CRT and each will be paired with a mentor who will provide one-on-one guidance and support as well as participate in the classes and trainings. The goal of the mentorship is to help women establish meaningful, long lasting relationships with other women who can provide resources and support along their journey. The focus is on supporting financial literacy, career and workforce readiness, as well as to teach women to use the power of their voices to share their stories in order to advocate for changes in policies and programs to better serve their needs and intended purposes.
- CRT’s Women’s Empowerment Center will provide workshops throughout the Hartford and Middlesex Counties that will be open to the public on topics that are relevant to personal and career development and financial literacy. These workshops will be networking opportunities open to all women because they are an essential part to bridging the gaps across economic barriers.
The ultimate goal is to see the women who participate in the Women’s Empowerment Center to thrive, and hopefully serve as mentors for other women in the future. You can support this great initiative by attending their upcoming event on Wednesday, May 2nd at 5:30 at the Gershon Fox Ballroom. For more information and tickets, please visit: http://www.crtct.org/en/events/crt-womens-empowerment-center-fundraiser
You will often hear those of us who work here at Journey Home say that homelessness can happen to anyone. We say it because we have witnessed the truth of that statement. Case in point, meet Wallace Rosser. Wallace is 54 and has been homeless since 2014. Previous to being homeless, Mr. Rosser worked as a roofer for a local roofing company. He had his own apartment, his own bed, his own couch, his own place to call home. He had all of that until one fateful day at work.
Wallace took a very serious fall while roofing. He fell 25 feet to the ground below and injured his wrist, back, and leg. Physically, Wallace was never the same. The injuries left permanent damage causing him to have to constantly use a cane to walk. After the fall, Wallace’s life took a turn for the worst. He was unable to regain employment and eventually lost his apartment. Wallace found himself with little to no support from family and friends. He was without the safety net that many of us have. Although he has a very close relationship with his mother, he was not able to reside with her as she lives in a subsidized unit for disabled persons that did not allow anyone else to share her apartment with her.
Wallace was left with one choice — he had to explore the shelter system in Hartford. For three years, he bounced from shelter to shelter. When he was unable to obtain shelter for the night he slept outside. In one of his conversations with Kelly Gonzalez, Journey Home Peer Specialist, he said, “I slept anywhere I could lay my head down. I slept in bank portals, by church steps, under the bridge, bus shelters and bus stations.” Like many people who live unsheltered, Wallace experienced a lot of misfortunes. He was robbed, assaulted, and harassed.
Kelly began to work with Wallace, and although he was quite hard to locate as he slept in different places daily, thankfully, Kelly was able to quickly get a bed for him at McKinney Shelter in Hartford and she also began working on gathering all of his identifying documents as they were stolen during a robbery.
Before long, his life was really beginning to stabilize with just a little extra assistance and some concentrated attention.
Kelly and Wallace worked diligently together to obtain all of his documents. Because someone believed in him, he began to really believe in himself. What seemed insurmountable before, became possible. They obtained his medical records which then allowed them to apply for a new Social Security card. Once they obtained his Social Security card, Kelly went with him to New Britain City Hall and assisted him with getting his birth certificate. From there, they went to the Department of Motor Vehicles so he could apply for his official State ID. Soon after that trip to the DMV, Wallace received his State ID in the mail. Christmas had come early! Wallace was filled with incredible joy and a sense of deep gratitude.
On August 25th, Wallace was document ready and was officially placed on the list for a housing opportunity. On September 12th, Wallace was referred to Community Renewal Team and officially moved into his new place in October. Three years of homelessness had finally come to an end.
Wallace wouldn’t be where he is today without our supporters. We can’t do this work without all of you. There is so much that goes into housing just one person. For someone who is chronically homelessness, it is definitely not as simple as just getting a key to a new place. There are lots of steps and having the support of someone like Kelly really is the difference between finding a home or remaining homeless. Thank you for allowing us to hire people like Kelly Gonzalez. Without housing navigation and outreach coordination we would not be able to witness the steady decline we have witnessed in reducing chronic homelessness over these last three years. We are all deeply grateful for your support.
Patti Stewkesbury, Marketing Director of Kinsley Group, wrote a reflection of the Kinsley Group’s recent experience of volunteering and adopting a client with Journey Home’s Making a House a Home program.
In October, The Kinsley Group was matched with Journey Home. Turning the new apartment into a home soon became Kinsley’s job!
Kinsley was matched with, Jenny, a young mother of two, who had just moved into her own place after being homeless and needed help making her new apartment a home. Four people from the Kinsley Employee Activities Committee visited with her to uncover what she needed to make her house a home. The sad answer was almost everything! Our goal was before us! We worked to obtain the items on her list from tag sales, consignment shops and our own attics! When we visited with Jenny, she was reluctant to ask for everything she needed. So we worked with her to make the list comprehensive and inclusive of everything she might need. It can be hard for the person on the receiving end, and we imagined it was probably embarrassing for her, though she never let that on. We took her list and ran with it. We posted fliers up in our facility, placed a box in the lunchroom for donations and designated an area in our warehouse for furniture, which soon came pouring in! We shopped tag sale sites on facebook and found that many people donated that item instead of their original intent to sell it once they found out what we were doing! We also discovered how kind people are in general, with so many strangers feeling an immediate connectedness to the cause. People are so willing to help when you make it personal. At yard sales, the same thing happened! People donated items that were for sale. Most Items weren’t new, but in good condition. We also collected money from something Kinsley calls “Jean’s Friday” where we designate a quarterly charity as the recipient of a $25.00 donation that employees pay in order to wear jeans on Fridays. We used that money to purchase things like diapers and other items we didn’t receive in donation!
During the two weeks of our campaign, I acted as point person with our family. I kept her updated and let her see photos of the growing pile! We never pried into her life or circumstances which enabled her to trust us. She loved being connected with us, the way we were to her. I let her pick when we received multiples of the same item. She loved being part of it.
When move in time came, we arranged for a team of volunteers to use Kinsley’s allotted “community service” hours to bring the items in company vehicles to the home. A team of eight descended on the apartment in Hartford and made short work of moving in! Within an hour and a half everything was in, the beds were set up, locks and curtain rods installed and furniture placed! We happily hauled the dirty mattress that the family had been sleeping on out to the curb!
This opportunity with Journey Home was an amazing one for everyone involved. It displayed the caring nature of our company and the importance of community. It’s often said “it takes a village” and this project made us feel like “villagers” helping a young mom who badly needed it. The best part of the experience was when Jenny said “I hope one day I can do for somebody what you have done for me.” The Journey Home program is truly changing lives, and possibly hearts and minds. I would recommend that any company trying to engage in the community become part of Journey Home and “adopt” a family, it likely won’t be your last!
2017 marked Journey Home’s tenth year of work in the Greater Hartford region. In the last four years, since the start of our local Coordinated Access Network, we have witnessed a 75% decline in ending chronic homelessness. The progress in this part of the state has been so substantial that Journey Home has been asked to expand our Coordinated Access work into the New Britain/Bristol area.
This part of the state, called the Central Coordinated Access Network, is comprised of New Britain, Bristol, Southington, Plainville, and Berlin. This part of the state received 7% of all 211 shelter and housing related calls this fall, and has a number of different shelter, housing, and outreach providers already working together.
Starting in January, Journey Home will be providing backbone support to the Coordinated Access Network in Central CAN by helping with local meeting facilitation, data management, and systems coordination.