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The Power of Shelter Diversion and the People Behind It

In Central Connecticut, Community Health Resources (CHR) whose name embodies their commitment to community-based care, as well as instilling hope for a healthy, happy and productive future, and utilization of all available resources to achieve change. CHR has committed to practice these core values when, in November of 2017, they took on the challenge to fill the need as Central Connecticut’s Shelter Diversion Center provider.

According to Connecticut’s Department of Housing and Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, Connecticut Shelter Diversion can be described as: a strategy that prevents homelessness at the front door of the homelessness response system by helping people identify immediate alternative housing arrangements and, if necessary, connecting them with services and financial assistance to help them return to permanent housing.

Shelter Diversion is a strategy that takes a tremendous amount of active listening, strengths exploration and motivation from both the client and the diversion specialist. CHR’s Diversion Center is currently staffed by one full-time diversion specialist who covers Bristol, Plainville, New Britain, Southington and Berlin as a catchment area. CHR’s Diana Berube is known in the community as “Diversion Superwoman”. She has been quoted as being ambitious, kindhearted and empathetic. Clients who have attended a Central Coordinated Access Network (CAN) appointment, leave with better clarity on how they will move forward out of their current situation. It is known that Diana creates an environment that exudes compassion. This is beneficial when a client’s defenses are high, they are out of options and seeking assistance. Therefore, when Diana is asked what she loves most about being “Diversion Superwoman”, she humbly states, “being able to break down the defenses of individuals to trust me enough to assist them in their time of desperation.”

Being an outreach worker for the City of Bristol, prior to her role with CHR, Diana received first-hand experiences on the hardships that would force someone into homelessness or housing instability. That is why she has dedicated herself to not be “just another resource” but hope and encouragement for those who come to see her seeking assistance. Because of this, Diana will tell anyone, that one of her biggest challenges with her role is not always being able to assist the client immediately or if at all. She credits her supervisor, Angela Easterling, for providing tremendous support and an ear or shoulder when she is presented with clients that trigger emotions because of their circumstances. Diana also credits CHR’s Rapid Rehousing Case manager, Rosa DeJesus, for her linkage to effective communication and is grateful for times she steps away from her own caseload to assist with translating when needed.

Diana will be the first to say that being the only Diversion Specialist is not an easy task, but the support she receives from CHR makes it all worthwhile. It is clear that CHR upholds their mission, which is to help adults, children, and families find Real Hope for the challenges of Real Life.

From our Director of Development & Communications

“Whether you believe in God or not does not matter so much, whether you believe in Buddha or not does not matter so much; as a Buddhist, whether you believe in reincarnation or not does not matter so much. You must lead a good life. And a good life does not mean just good food, good clothes, good shelter. These are not sufficient. A good motivation is what is needed: compassion, without dogmatism, without complicated philosophy; just understanding that others are human brothers and sisters and respecting their rights and human dignity.”
-Dalai Lama
We want to take a moment and thank all of you, our friends and supporters, for everything you have done for us here at Journey Home.  Because of your financial support, your many hours of labor, your donations of goods and services, your kind words, your beautiful letters, and your endless faith in what we do, we have been able to accomplish so much already this year.  You have embodied the words above — your generosity has proven that you have an understanding that others are human brothers and sisters and your commitment to our work and our mission shows the deep respect that you have for the rights and dignity of all humanity.
I know that we often say this, but it needs to be said again and again, without all of you cheering us on and supporting us in the many ways that you do, we would not be able to keep making progress towards our goal of ending homelessness.  As we begin this next fiscal year, we are keenly aware of what the support of our friends and donors has done for our tiny, but mighty, organization this past year. And we are deeply grateful. We look forward to this next year with incredible optimism.  Thank you for walking this journey with us. Because of your constant support, so many people have walked on their own journey home.
And in the spirit of thanks and recognition, we would like to lift up those partners who have gone above and beyond during this last quarter.  Please see below in our special “Thank You” section of this quarter’s newsletter to find out who has gone the extra mile with us on our journey together.
With gratitude,
Sara Salomons

Lessons Can be Learned Everywhere You Go

There are so many things our parents teach us when we are young. To eat our vegetables, our left from our right, but there is one thing that many people are taught, but forget to say, and forget the meaning behind it. During this past Home Makeover, our client never forgot to say it, and never said it without any meaning. She truly appreciated every moment and every little thing that we were able to provide to her and her daughter. They were little things to us, like cleaning the kitchen, collecting school supplies, and hanging pictures on the walls. But those were the big things to her. Every aspect of the Home Makeover she was thrilled about and never forgot to say what every parent teaches their children, two words that everyone should hear — “Thank you”.
In the spirit of this family that we were able to help, we’d like to say, thank you, to all of our volunteers and donors that have helped this program grow and thrive over these past 3 years. You have done so much and we wouldn’t be where we are today without you.

Farewell Dottie & Welcome Brian!

Journey Home has come a long way over the last seven years witnessing growth in employees, revenue and volunteer engagement.  Through this period of change, we have relied on the amazing skills of our contracted accountant, Dottie Stone. This spring Dottie made the difficult decision to leave Journey Home in order to enjoy retirement.  Dottie was critical to ensuring that Journey Home was able to support the growth of our agency from a finance perspective. She worked with our Executive Director, Deputy Director and Board Treasurer to implement a financial management system that would allow us to diversify our revenue streams and to serve as a fiduciary and subcontract funding allowing gaps to be filled in the homeless service system. For all her years of dedication to Journey Home, and her heartfelt commitment to the mission of ending homelessness, Journey Home sends our deepest appreciation to Dottie.

During this transition we have welcomed a new staff member to the Journey Home team to continue on the great progress we have made thus far.  At the beginning of April, Brian Mullen joined Journey Home as the part-time Accounting and Finance Officer. Brian holds a BS in Economics from Southern CT State University.  He began his career in commercial banking but transition over to the non-profit field in 2001. Outside of work, Brian is a pet lover (he has a dog and two cats), enjoys bowling on a league he has been on since childhood and does fundraising work for Our Companions, a CT based animal rescue.  We are thrilled to welcome Brian to the Journey Home team!

Homeless Outreach Field Day

In April, Parkville Community Association contacted Journey Home about attending one of their monthly meetings to discuss homelessness as well as to address some concerns about homelessness in their community. Parkville is a neighborhood on the west side of Hartford that stretches from the center of Park Street all the way to Capitol Avenue and Prospect Avenue. The Parkville Community Association is managed by their President, David Morin, and consists of various providers in the Parkville area as well as Community Service officers, volunteers and residents. At these meetings they discuss various topics including housing development, construction and waste management. They also discuss any issues in the neighborhood related to safety.

On April 18th, Kelly Gonzalez, Outreach Coordinator for Journey Home attended the Parkville Community Association meeting. She brought materials with her and educated the group on homelessness and the proper steps to help a client get connected to homeless services in the community. The group was very excited to hear about services available to this population and provided Kelly with locations where clients are known to be unsheltered. The Outreach Coordinator assured them that it would be brought back to the outreach team and that they would do their best to connect with clients found in the locations provided.

On May 9th, the outreach team agreed to cancel the outreach meeting and instead make it an outreach field trip. She split the 14 unsheltered locations provided by the Parkville community in two groups and both teams headed out to search for the unsheltered clients in these areas. Community Health Resources, Hands on Hartford, ImmaCare, House of Bread and Friendship Service Center worked cohesively and safely to canvass the grounds provided. Group A covered the residential areas and looked for evidence of homelessness behind churches, businesses and playscapes. Group B covered the industrial areas and searched for campsites behind parks, construction sites and near railroad tracks.

Once the groups finished checking all the areas assigned to them they reconvened at Hands on Hartford to discuss their findings. Group A found tents behind the Fast Track Station and Group B found a campsite behind Pope Park. Unfortunately, the people residing in these areas were not present at the time. Both teams left outreach cards, toiletries and lunches in these areas with hopes that they will reach out and know that there is a team in the community who can assist them.

Moving forward, both areas will continuously get checked for unsheltered people with the hope that they will engage and accept homeless services. The alliance amongst the homeless providers and Parkville Community Association was a great one that proved we have a shared goal to make a social change. Ending homelessness is a community effort and the collaboration amongst the various agencies proved that working together is the only way we can create breakthroughs. Marissa Mayer, Yahoo CEO, said it best, “when we need to innovate, you need collaboration.”

Journey Home would like to thank all of our funders and donors for making these kinds of partnerships possible.

Happy Hour, Happy Family

Hot appetizers on the table, cold drinks in hand, and conversations flowing from one person to the next. What a wonderful night at Republic at the Linden in Hartford for our Volunteer Appreciation Happy Hour. We are so thankful to have been able to spend quality time with a group of some of our most dedicated volunteers. It is always a joy to get together to help those in need, but we recognize the importance of coming together as a community as well and enjoying some time to relax and recuperate together without any heavy lifting involved.

We have volunteers in all aspects of our program, from those that are doing the heavy lifting during the week, those that come on the weekends, the ones that connect us to donors with great pieces for the clients, and those that help in sorting and organizing household items. Each and every volunteer makes this program run and makes it possible for our clients to feel comfortable in their new homes. This program has truly created a family that is helping our neighbors in the Greater Hartford area finally feel at home.

Making a House a Home is a program that is not only bringing together furniture and household goods but is bringing together people in the community to make a difference and make a connection for other people in the community that have simply fallen on hard times and need some help to get back on their feet. This is a program that happens for our neighbors, just as it would happen between friends and family. When someone you know needs some assistance you step up to help; a sister, a cousin, an old friend from high school. Those experiencing homelessness are no different. They are someone’s sister, cousin, and friend from high school. It is our duty to help and give them a hand when they are down, so they can do the same for someone else during their time of need.Thank you to our volunteers for lending that hand, and being there to create this community of givers, creating a family that people can go to for support. You are some of the most selfless people in our community today, and we thank you and appreciate you so much for all that you have done and continue to do today.

Advocacy Days

Over the past few years, Journey Home, alongside dozens of local partners, has been making a huge impact on ending homelessness.  Most days, we spend our time analyzing data, facilitating workgroups, engaging volunteers, and moving furniture into new homes. In early March, though, the Journey Home team took to the Capitol for the annual Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Days with the Reaching Home campaign, organized by the Partnership for Strong Communities, and the CT Coalition to End Homelessness.

Advocacy Days are a two-day stretch, usually in early spring, where providers of homeless services and housing programs across the state of Connecticut join together.  In the legislative office building, each of the different Coordinated Access Networks across the state presented data highlighting the work we have done to end veteran homelessness, the work we are doing to end chronic homelessness, and the goals we have to end family and youth homelessness by 2020.  Legislators and legislative aides gathered to hear stories from clients who have been positively impacted by housing and shelter programs. Here are some of the highlights we shared with our local elected representatives:

  • CT was recognized in 2016 by the federal government as one of the first two states in the nation to end homelessness among Veterans.
  • From January 2015 to December 2017, CT providers housed 1,948 people experiencing chronic homelessness, bringing CT within reach of our goal of ending chronic homelessness.
  • Since January 2014, there has been a 62% decrease in individuals experiencing chronic homelessness (long-term homelessness with a severe disability). In September 2017, there were 197 adults experiencing chronic homelessness in CT — the lowest number to date.

Connecticut has been leading change in ending homelessness over the last few years.  State legislators are seeing that housing reduces use of emergency rooms for medical care, saves money across systems, and allows constituents to become active members of their communities.  These advocacy days give us the chance to show legislators the progress we are making each year, and to make the case for maintaining essential, life-saving support programs. Across the state of CT, through our advocacy days we were able to reach 125 state legislators with our message of progress, and we shared the ambitious goals we have for ending homelessness in the years to come.

The Power of Hope

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 Their Own Words: Sherri Schwartz

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.

Lessons Learned in Los Angeles

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.

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