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The Joys of Truly Making a House a Home: My Story as a Journey Home Volunteer By Rosemary Keogh O’Neill

It all started because I was upset after the November election and needed to do something. So I signed up to provide a Thanksgiving meal for a Journey Home client. We made a turkey and all the fixings for Ulysses in East Hartford so he could host his daughter and granddaughter for the first time since he got his Journey Home apartment.

It was a great experience so I signed up with Journey Home again at Christmas to help someone else. This time I was assigned to Fatima, who has two children. I bought and wrapped toys and collected some household goods. When I asked her on the phone what else she needed, she said simply, “a mattress.” She had been sleeping on an old stained box spring with her two children.

Through the West Hartford community Facebook page, I found someone willing to donate a beautiful bed and I delivered the mattress to Fatima. But then I had a boxspring and frame with no home. So Journey Home directed to Rosa, who had been sleeping on a mattress on the floor. I brought her the box spring and frame and found out she needed so much more. She is raising three young children (two of whom are autistic), is working and is going back to school.

With all her needs, my quest became like a scavenger hunt. Through the same West Hartford site, I located a toddler bed and mattress, dressers, curtains and rods, children’s clothes, and blue candy (a specific request from her daughter). As I was contacting people and picking up items, I started meeting great people around West Hartford. They were so willing to help and interested in what we were doing. One mom explained to her son that his mattress was going to a kid who has no bed.

As I picked up a table from a woman in West Hartford, she handed me a small bag of skin care products for myself to thank me for what I was doing. Wow.

The delivery to Rosa and her family was hard work, but so rewarding. My husband and I rented a truck and lugged all the stuff up to her third floor apartment. We gave her a gift card and asked if there was anything else we could do. She said, “I don’t know how to even thank you. I don’t even know where you came from but I just feel so blessed.” And she hugged us both. What a reward.

Next, we “adopted” Sue, who had been in her apartment with her son for a month. When she told me she had nothing, she wasn’t kidding. It was empty except for her bed and one for her son. Again, we started searching around West Hartford and hit pay dirt. We got a kitchen table and chairs, sofa and loveseat, a television, sheets and towels and dishes, books and clothes for her son. Stephano was thrilled with the books – and, yes, even more by the TV.

Since Sue didn’t need a bed we had located, we took that over to Nathaniel in East Hartford and set that up. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a bigger hug in my life.

I was telling these stories to my 86-year-old father on the phone one night, jazzed about how great it felt to be doing all this. He said “I am so proud of you.” We’re not really an emotional family, and I’m pretty sure that’s the first time I remember him ever saying that to me. The next day, he sent me $500 to give to my Journey Home friends. Wow again. The circle never ends.

CHR: A Leader in Rapid ReHousing

In August of last year, all the shelter and housing providers in Greater Hartford came together to try and improve housing matching to a new kind of housing assistance. The new model, called Rapid ReHousing, is based on the idea that homeless services should work like a trampoline, quickly bouncing people back to housing as soon as they become homeless. In Greater Hartford, we have been lucky to have the leadership and focus of CHR (Community Health Resources) to help us tackle this challenge.

CHR is a comprehensive non-profit behavioral health care agency community providing a wide array of high quality mental health, substance use, supportive housing, and prevention and wellness services. But CHR has been more than a service provider in Greater Hartford, they have been a leader in collaboration and information sharing. CHR, in addition to the other services mentioned, also operates a couple of our local Rapid ReHousing programs. Through these programs, CHR is able to work with individuals and families in the shelters to provide rental assistance, case management services, and eliminate barriers to housing that can keep families in the shelter system. These Rapid ReHousing programs are an essential support in our local network of housing services, because they can move quickly, they can think creatively, and they can troubleshoot all kinds of challenges.

It’s one thing to operate a program, but in Greater Hartford, CHR provides so much more than that. In a community that is striving to prioritize limited resources, and share information between more than 10 shelters, matching people to housing resources is no small order. In our community, more than 30 dedicated staff from various agencies come together twice a month to talk about the program, and to match eligible households to this valuable support. CHR has been a leader not just in administering a program, but also in taking leadership in these meetings. As our community learns more about Rapid ReHousing, and strives to more quickly return households to permanent housing, CHR’s willingness to be creative has been essential.

The Rapid ReHousing team at CHR have been leaders in flexibility, working with Journey Home and our other community partners to figure out solutions. A housing matching meeting that used to be chaotic and long is now effective, concise, and focused on the needs of our clients.

By going above and beyond in improving our local housing matching process, by brainstorming solutions with all of our partners, and by taking a leadership role in organizing this new process, CHR has been a leader in the GH CAN community. Journey Home is happy to have them as a partners, and is looking forward to seeing what the future holds!

Aerospace Employment Placement Program: What’s Behind its Success?

Over the last two years, the Aerospace Employment Placement Program (AEPP) has launched 29 careers for Greater Hartford residents. In less than three years, these participants have collectively earned over $700,000 with health benefits and are all transitioning to their own places of residence.

So, what’s behind the success? Two words, employer commitment. As we examine the partnership with Belcan and look at best practices, the feeling is that we have created a strong blueprint for future employers to become involved, and with minor customization this program will meet their needs.

It all started with Belcan’s Leadership, Steve Houghtaling, Senior VP and manager of the Windsor, CT facility. He supported a shared vision for the program that engaged the local community while making sound business sense. Steve was an early adopter of the program and visited some of our future partners such as The Open Hearth Association and Goodwin College. Steve identified a senior Belcan associate, Jean Forsyth, to co-lead the development and execution of this program.

Jean’s primary responsibilities were to ensure the program’s partnerships aligned with Belcan’s need. This included participant selection, training and continued on the job support leading to successful employment at Belcan. While maintaining a full time job at Belcan, Jean immersed herself within the project, working to represent the program and Belcan’s good work:

• Developing partnerships with the direct service and education providers
• Serving actively in the program participant selection process
• Monitoring performance during training and at Belcan
• Identifying positions at Belcan once training was completed
• Representing the program in the non-profit community
• Mentoring associates and providing them with life skills support
• Quantifying that this activity makes good business sense and is the key to sustainability

If you are a business looking for targeted trained associates and have the passion to help our community, come talk to us. We are looking for more employment opportunities and for more business leaders like Steve and Jean to help us expand this program to serve more people in need.

Journey Home Now Accepting Donations for Birdies for Charity Fundraiser

Since 2004 the Birdies for Charity fundraiser has been a staple of the Travelers Championship and an exciting opportunity for every non-profit in Connecticut. Last year the championship raised $1.56 million for more than 140 charities.

Similar to a walk-a-thon, donors pledge a small amount for each birdie made during the six-day tournament. For example, a 10-cent pledge with 1,500 birdies made will raise a total of $150. With the 1,829 birdies made at last year’s championship, over $20,000 was raised for Journey Home. This impressive sum also earned us a booth in the “Fan Zone”, and the opportunity to raise awareness among the event’s 50,000 attendees.

“There is great energy that comes with this particular fundraiser,” said Matt Morgan, Executive Director of Journey Home, “we compete to get the most pledges, but really, everyone wins.”

In 2017 we are striving to surpass last year’s total. The pledges we receive will help ensure that we meet our goal of ending chronic homelessness in Greater Hartford by the end of this year. If you support this mission we ask that you please visit Journey Home’s website to pledge.

Thanks to Travelers Championship, Cohn Reznick, Connecticut Association of Nonprofits, Ford and other generous sponsors, Journey Home is afforded this amazing opportunity every year. Catch all the action June 19th – 25th at the TPC River Highlands in Cromwell. We’ll see you in the Fan Zone!

Two Days in Houston: A Peek Into What is Being Done to End Family and Youth Homelessness

Three members of our Journey Home Team boarded a plane last month bound for Houston, Texas. Why Houston? Well, Houston was home to this year’s National Alliance to End Homeless (NAEH) Annual Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness. Our team reports that the conference far exceeded their very big expectations.

This annual conference was two days chock-full of workshops and forums with providers from across the country. A wide variety of topics were discussed with an strong emphasis on Rapid Rehousing and Progressive Engagement. Both of these important strategies are already being implemented throughout our state and, because of this, Connecticut is actually viewed as a leader in the country for ending homelessness. Rapid Rehousing refers to the program that assists those who are experiencing homelessness become quickly rehoused and stabilized. Progressive Engagement refers to a strategy of providing a small amount of assistance to everyone entering the homelessness system, and increasing the amount of assistance as necessary.

Our team reports that one of the highlights of the conference were the speakers. The keynote address by Richard Hooks Wayman, National Executive Director of Children’s Defense Fund in Washington, D.C. was definitely a fan favorite. He encouraged attendees to “confront the narrative, focus on solutions, and keep showing up…” We have to keep showing up for all of our clients experiencing homelessness. We need to focus on solutions rather than managing homelessness. That is something we constantly strive to do as we continue our work here at Journey Home.

It was truly inspiring for our Journey Home staff members to see what other agencies are doing in regards to youth homelessness. One of the most impressive components of what is being done is including youth with lived experience as a part of the solution. “Nothing about us without us” was a common thread that was repeated over and over again. When you include youth who have experienced homelessness, you really do get a better sense of what’s working and what isn’t.

Our staff was incredibly grateful for this opportunity and reinforced for all of us why we do this work. We do it because everyone deserves a home!

Journey Home & Hartford Business Improvement District Working Together

The City of Hartford has seen some major changes to the downtown landscape in the past few years. With new housing developments, restaurants, and shopping centers coming downtown, the city has been experiencing a lot of changes. At Journey Home, we’re seeing some big changes too. One thing we have seen is a decrease in chronic homelessness, as more of our long-term homeless neighbors finally obtained housing during the Zero: 2016 Campaign. And while we know that a lot of great work has happened to help reduce the number of folks permanently living outside, the downtown business improvement district recently reached out, hoping to be a part of ongoing solutions to those sleeping in the streets.

In February, Journey Home was offered the opportunity to sit down with representatives from the Hartford Business Improvement District (HBID), the Hartford Police Department, and Hartford Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs (HYPE) to talk about new ways for the downtown businesses to partner with communities serving the homeless in our city. Partnerships with business improvement districts have proven essential to combating homelessness in many metropolitan communities.

Part of HBID’s team includes Ambassadors, who do everything from provide local security services, to shoveling out bus shelters, to beautifying local parks. One thing that they aren’t as famous for is their interactions with folks experiencing homelessness. With boots on the ground in the city, the HBID Ambassadors have been informally working with some of our homeless outreach workers for years. The next step is to strengthen these relationships, and incorporate the ambassadors as another possible branch of our outreach efforts. This meeting provided a forum for training about the Coordinated Access Network of homeless services in Hartford, and was a forum to start important conversations. The representatives from the Hartford Police Department shared anecdotes of homeless neighbors they have known for a long time, and the HYPE representatives inquired about how to troubleshoot issues with any 211 calls.

Though this partnership is still new, the Business Improvement District is already showing great support, offering to join in with the monthly homeless outreach meetings to collaborate on housing solutions for homeless neighbors. The interest doesn’t stop there, though. The Hartford BID has also committed to helping our local outreach teams generate new marketing materials that all homeless outreach teams could share with those who are in need of services. It is a wonderful new partnership!

We NEED VISTAS!

Are you looking for experience with a non-profit agency that is a change agent in the community? Journey Home is currently recruiting for two AmeriCorps VISTA positions to begin in June of 2017. AmeriCorps VISTAs work with agencies in the community to implement or expand upon new or existing programs and initiatives. VISTAs commit to working full-time for one year for the agency and in return receive a modest stipend. What VISTAs who work with Journey Home really benefit from however, is the great experience. For those looking to enter the workforce or enter a post-graduate program, a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA can be the perfect segue. All of our previous VISTAs have gone on to careers they were previously passed over for, or onto graduate education programs with 100% of their education covered!

Journey Home is looking for motivated, self-starters to work with us to expand our initiatives focused on increasing employment and income opportunities and healthcare stability for individuals experiencing homelessness. Both projects involve a high level of collaboration with community partners and a broad range of tasks that are great for establishing work experience. Above all we are seeking individuals with a passion for social justice issues and who believe in our mission to end homelessness in our communities.

VISTAs working with Journey Home are embraced as part of the staff and are given the flexibility to think creatively and lead the implementation of their respective projects. This translates to excellent networking opportunities, great recommendations and fantastic resume builders. Following the year of service, VISTAs may opt to receive a $5,000 education award that can be used to pay off educational debt or for future education. Additionally, many schools offer excellent scholarship opportunities for AmeriCorps alumni. For those looking for career opportunities, VISTA alumni also receive one year of non-competitive eligibility for employment in the federal government, which means faster application processes and access to openings not available to the general public.

Youth Count and Systems Dynamic Model

During the week of January 25th the Youth Point-In-Time (PIT) Count occurred throughout Connecticut. Journey Home helped coordinate volunteers for this effort in Greater Hartford. The purpose of the Youth PIT Count was to administer a survey with youth to determine the number of youth in the Greater Hartford region who are sleeping outside, in cars, or temporarily staying between friends and family due to not having their own place to stay.

In Hartford alone, over 230 surveys were completed, the most out of any city in the state. Combining these numbers with the other towns in the Greater Hartford region there were over 300 surveys completed. Thank you to all of the volunteers and agencies that participated in administering these surveys with youth and offering space to do these surveys. With the information from these surveys we can learn what services are needed for this particular youth population.

The Youth Count is so important because the impact of homelessness on youth is extensive. With the effect of a youth being homeless for a long period of time leads to increased risk for sexual abuse, being lured into prostitution, physical abuse, criminal justice involvement, illness, suicide, dropping out of school, mental health problems and substance abuse. The effect of youth having unstable housing causes them to be involved in multiple systems such as education, juvenile justice, child welfare and law enforcement, yet there is no one entity that has ongoing responsibility for them. More than half of shelter youth, and two thirds of youth/young adults living on the streets, report having spent time in foster care, inpatient mental health settings, juvenile detention or jail. That is why it is essential to develop a coordinated response to youth/young adults (YYA) experiencing housing instability in Connecticut so that we prevent them from becoming homeless or at least keep episodes’ brief and rare.

Journey Home is working on a new approach to identifying solutions to youth homelessness by creating a system dynamic model. This model is used by stakeholders to plan effective interventions and to use for legislative advocacy, demonstrating to legislators where best to allocate resources and how policy changes will impact the problem and at what cost. One key benefit of using this system is the ability to simulate the dynamics in the model. It can also help stakeholders communicate, garner support from system stakeholders and advocate for policy change.

Jessie Finds His Way Home

For close to four years there wasn’t one day when Jessie could fiddle around in his pocket and find his house key. He couldn’t find his key because he didn’t have that key. Not only was Jessie homeless, but Jessie was constantly on the move. In and out of shelters, under bridges, on the riverfront, or under highway ducts. Wherever he could find a warm and relatively safe space, that is where he would rest his head at night. No key needed. Just strength, resilience, and determination.

Journey Home identified Jessie through our database of those who are experiencing chronic homelessness. Once he was identified, we were tasked with locating him. Sounds easy? It wasn’t. Jessie was transient. He was the definition of transient. It took nearly seven weeks to locate Jessie. Through the efforts and persistence of Journey Home and Blue Hills Civic Association, Jessie was finally located. Finding Jessie was just the first step of the process. The next hill to climb was helping him obtain all of the documents he needed for housing. Working together and remaining in constant communication, we were able to help him secure all of the necessary documents. Moving day was in sight.

And then one day it happened. Jessie woke up on a warm morning in late May, got dressed, and put his keys in his pocket. He had found his way home. It took a lot of people working together, it took Jessie being committed to the process, and it took streamlined system changes to make this all possible. We are thrilled to know that Jessie is fiddling around in his pocket today and in that pocket he has found a key, a key to his new home. Congratulations, Jessie!

Sometimes it Really Does Take a Village

What is identity? Identity can be the name of a person, who someone is, or the qualities and beliefs that make you who you are. We don’t realize how important identity is until you are trying to prove it. Now imagine trying to prove your identity to the rest of the world with absolutely no proof. Lawrence Tuman (legally Lawrence Simons) began staying in emergency shelters in the Hartford area in April of 2014. He didn’t have any documents such as a photo ID, a social security card or a birth certificate. That is common among the homeless population, though. Sleeping outside or moving from shelter to shelter is a very easy way to get your items lost or stolen. He was also not receiving any government benefits such as SNAP, commonly known as food stamps or HUSKY (medical insurance), jointly due to the lack of documents and the inability to locate a social security number matching to a “Lawrence Tuman.” He continued with his life every day living in the shelter with the same routine. Wake up, pack belongings, go to the legislative office building, supreme court, lunch on a good day, library, and then back to the shelter for check-in time. He was not a danger to himself or others, and so he continued with this routine for two years.

Fast forward to Spring of 2016. By now, he has met the definition of chronic homelessness, having been homeless for over a year continuously and having a diagnosed disability. But having no documents is a barrier to obtaining housing because most landlords require an ID. It is challenging to get a social security card without an ID and you can’t get an ID without a birth certificate and you can’t get the birth certificate without the social security number. What do you do if you have nothing and there is still no evidence that Lawrence Tuman, with the date of birth and social security number provided ever existed? A navigator was assigned to Lawrence to assist him in getting “document ready” for housing. After numerous failed attempts and methods to try to establish his true identity, Journey Home and the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness finally got the start they needed. On April 15, 2016, with assistance from Hartford Deputy Chief of Police Brian Foley, Journey Home staff took Lawrence to be fingerprinted by the City of Hartford police department in hopes that there would be a match. Initially the fingerprints were deemed “poor quality” so he had to come back and get fingerprinted again. Days later, on April 20, 2016, the fingerprint expert was able to find a match linked to an old police record from 2002. The fingerprints matched Lawrence Simons, from Winsted, CT. We were ecstatic because we finally felt like we were another step closer. Lawrence Simons had the same birthday that Lawrence Tuman provided although with a different year and the last 4 digits of Lawrence Simons’ social security number matched one of the many variations that Lawrence Tuman provided. However, Lawrence did not believe that those were his fingerprints and did not remember his name as Lawrence Simons.

With this information, we contacted the Town of Winsted for assistance in obtaining a birth certificate for Lawrence Simons. We submitted the police record we received from the City of Hartford and crossed our fingers that we would get something in return. Two weeks later, we received an original birth certificate in the mail! It was a great day for us. With this document, we were able to pursue other necessary documents. Our next goal was to obtain a social security card for Lawrence but we were still one document too short of the required documents for a replacement card. This is when we asked for assistance from the HOPE team at Capital Region Mental Health Center (CRMHC). After proper releases were signed by Lawrence, the HOPE team was able to link old medical records to new medical records and provide these to the Social Security Administration.

Two weeks later, Lawrence was matched to housing with the Greater Hartford Rental Assistance, a supportive housing program. He later became connected with a housing coordinator at Chrysalis Center who assisted him in locating an apartment. Finally, on August 3, 2016, he moved out of the very supportive Open Hearth Shelter and he was housed in a lovely unit of his very own. Journey Home continued to assist him with settling in with furniture from our Making a House a Home project.

He is currently receiving case management services from Chrysalis Center. Most recently, it was discovered that he was receiving social security benefits in 2008 and his benefits were never terminated. His benefits were suspended due to being unable to reach him. His case manager has been working with him to get a conservator so that his funds may be released to him. So here is one man, one client, with several successes. From establishing his true identity, increasing income (Social Security benefits and food stamps) and most importantly, giving him a set of keys to his own apartment. We consider this more than a success, we think of this as a life changer. And none of this would have ever been possible without the incredible collaboration that happened and our CAN working together. We are changing lives, person by person.

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