Sometimes, hope is found in the most unassuming places. It may seem like hope only appears in magical sunrises or in big, dramatic fashion. But, it can be found in the simplest of places at times.
One recent afternoon hope was found at a large office building in Windsor. Over a simple lunch in the corporate cafeteria, hope came to life in the person of Jimmie Smith. Jimmie is a recent graduate of Journey Home’s Aerospace Employment Placement Program and he believes with every bit of his being that he sat there that day because he never gave up hope. And that same hope seeps through his every glance, his every move, his every word.
Like everyone, Jimmie has an important story to tell. He has history. He has a past. But, he never allowed that past to get in the way of his future.
Jimmie found Journey Home while living at Open Hearth in Hartford. He wanted a second chance, a new start. His encounter with Journey Home staff member, Roy Mainelli, at a job fair at the shelter provided him with that new start he was looking for. As soon as he heard about the Aerospace Employment Placement Program, Jimmie knew that he had found that next step in his life. He enthusiastically began the enrollment process and then, last September, found himself sitting in a classroom at Goodwin College beginning the next phase of his life.
Jimmie sailed through the education component, soaked in all of the experience during his 6-week internship, and is now gainfully employed at Belcan Corporation. He loves every aspect of this new life. He found hope where some may have not. And that hope guides him as he begins the search for his new home. He has big dreams as he thinks about his new digs. And why wouldn’t he? He has come so far. With a full-time job, a great paycheck, benefits, and a 401-K, Jimmie is ready to take on anything.
Hope is certainly all around us. Sometimes we just have to dig deep enough to find it.
Journey Home held our Annual Meeting on June 16th. Between summarizing our work in 2015-2016, organizing a new governance structure, and some very essential strategic planning, we were also able to elect new officers to our board.
Our organization has been wonderfully led by Betsy Crum over these past two years. Betsy’s deep knowledge of issues around housing made her a great leader as Board Chair. Her dedication and service to Journey Home is far-reaching and we offer her our tremendous thanks for the work she has done over these last couple of years. We are delighted that she will not be leaving us, but only stepping down from her role. Taking her place as Chair is David Doot. David has been with our organization for three years and has served on the Executive Committee over the last two years. His passion for our work and his solid leadership will provide the guidance we need as we look to the future.
With leadership change also came changes on the Executive Committee. Our new Vice Chair is Jody Beresin and our new Secretary is Kevin LaCroix. Jody and Kevin are certainly not new to our board, but they are new to these roles. Both of them have shown tremendous support to us as we have grown into the organization we are now.
We give great thanks to all of those who serve on the Board of Directors at Journey Home. Their hard work and dedication makes us possible to continue to work to end homelessness in the Greater Hartford region.
One of the more exciting developments to our Coordinated Access Network this year has been the hiring of three navigators. These navigators assist clients in obtaining the documents they need to be ready for housing and they also accompany them through the housing process. This is a very important and necessary addition to our work and it allows us to ensure that no one falls through the cracks.
For a variety of reasons, it is often challenging to locate those who are experiencing homelessness. This is one of the reasons that the Coordinated Access Network (CAN) has been so instrumental in our work of ending chronic homelessness. The CAN has allowed us to share vital information and has created a pathway to housing. In the past, it may have taken us a lot of time and energy to locate someone like Ricardo Sanchez. But, because of the work of agencies working together and our CAN Navigators, we were able to locate Ricardo very quickly and get him on the path to housing.
Ricardo has been homeless for over 10 years and has been living under I-91 for most of that time. Shortly after one of our navigators began working with us, she was assigned to Ricardo. After a few attempts, she couldn’t locate Ricardo and it was at that point she put the word out. He finally appeared at an area shelter and was quickly put in touch with the navigator.
Since that time, he has been able to acquire all of his identifying documents, was referred for a mental health assessment, and is now ready for housing. After 10 years of living outside, it has taken a very short time to get Ricardo on the road to stabilizing his life.
None of this would have been possible for Ricardo without the work of the CAN. Communication, sharing information, and working together has made all the difference in our fight to end homelessness.
For the first time in about 30 years, Greater Hartford has moved away from a first-come, first-serve model of providing emergency shelter to a new model of prioritizing individuals and families in crisis according to several risk factors. On May 18th, the Greater Hartford Coordinated Access Network (GH-CAN) launched this new process to ensure that those who have been sleeping under bridges and out of doors, in their cars, or in other dangerous places would be prioritized for shelter. Additionally, the GH-CAN is looking at other factors that can impact the safety and vulnerability of those who are experiencing homelessness. In only one month, 164 people in Greater Hartford who reported they had been sleeping outside, have now been provided a warm bed in an emergency shelter. Thank you to all our partner agencies that have worked through this transition and have forged ahead with new practices and processes to try to better serve the needs in the community.
Journey Home was delighted to have Yasmine Ali join our team a year ago as the Employment Training VISTA working to implement an employment process through collaborative efforts with the City of Hartford, partner agencies and Shelter providers. The goal of the Hartford Homeless Employment Strategy is to integrate the Hartford Shelter Employment Specialists and other Shelter staff into the work being done by the American Jobs Center, Bureau of Rehabilitation Service, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and other Employment Service providers and should result in the employment system (training and support) being better coordinated, operating more effectively and efficiently, increasing the number of shelter residents finding and securing employment and decreasing the time spent securing employment. Because of Yasmine’s tireless efforts, Journey Home will now be able to manage a commone employment assessment and work with our partners to secure employment for those experiencing homelessness.
Yasmine has been awarded a full scholarship to attend New York University in the fall to pursue a dual Master of Public Administration (MPA) in Public and Nonprofit Management and Policy and a Master of Social Work (MSW). Yasmine tells us, “The work I’ve done this year will serve as a starting point for a lifetime devoted to service. I have been privileged enough to work with dedicated people on the front lines in shelters, as well as the behind the scene workers who are the driving force for many initiatives and programs. I hope to use my experiences to better serve those experiencing homelessness and extreme poverty.” We wish you all the best, Yasmine!
Emmett Ruff moved from Minnesota to Hartford to join our team as the SOAR VISTA. He spent the last year working to strengthen the SOAR initiative in Greater Hartford. He helped organize a SOAR Forum to bring stakeholders from the community together and also helped to develop an action plan for SOAR and formed a Steering Committee that meets monthly. And thanks to his hard work, Journey Home is now collaborating with Beacon Health Options to create an innovative SOAR program. SOAR is a national best practice and stands for SSI/SSDI Outreach Access and Recovery (SOAR). Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) are financial support benefits that can greatly improve stability of individuals who have disabilities and cannot support themselves. This SOAR project is about breaking down silos and creating new partnerships between the medical and behavioral healthcare systems, the homeless service system, Medicare Administrative Contractors, the Social Security Administration, Disability Determination Services, and Congressional Offices.
About his work, Emmett says, “The innovative and collaborative nature of Journey Home’s work has allowed me to approach the problem of homelessness and poverty from many different angles. My work with SOAR and the Community Care Team has sparked a particular interest in health policy and public health. After VISTA, I will be working as the Health Equity Intern at Families USA, a consumer health advocacy organization in Washington, DC. There’s no doubt that my year of service at Journey Home will inform my work in DC and beyond.” Good luck in DC, Emmett!
In February, a team of front-line staff from Greater Hartford organized the first regional Landlord Breakfast. This breakfast pulled together 20 landlords from across the Greater Hartford region to share information about different housing programs that serve formerly homeless clients.
Representatives from a number of different programs gave presentations about the rules, requirements, and myths about housing programs. Speakers talked about the Rental Assistance Program, Housing Choice Vouchers, Supportive Housing, Rapid Re-Housing, Section 8, other state and federally funded programs, and security deposit programs. A landlord with experience working with different programs in East Hartford and Manchester shared her positive experiences with the guests.
The event was the latest step in the statewide Zero: 2016 Campaign to end chronic homelessness. After months of homeless service programs working together, this was an effort to expand the group of landlords who are able to support our formerly homeless neighbors by working with local programs. Since the leading cause of homelessness is lack of affordable housing, this effort to build new and stronger relationships with local landlords has been essential, and following the breakfast several landlords reached out, eager to fill their vacant units with some of our regional clients.
As soon as I heard about Journey Home, I wanted to get involved. It’s really hard for one person to figure out what they might do to help end homelessness, but I think I found one tiny part where I can be of service.
I love to plug away at things, write letters and talk to people. So helping to furnish someone’s home has been a good retirement activity for me. I was kind of embarrassed at first that I try to make everything “go;” but now, if I find cake pans, I get some cake mix to go with it. I personally wrestle with feelings of being shallow when big things are happening for the client, but I forge ahead looking and asking for the very things I am being asked to provide, a lamp, a potholder, some towels.
I realize I am meeting the client at a high point; the day we deliver a bed, some cleaning products, dishes, a radio. We met up with Kevin recently in front of his apartment and he was jumping up and down like the people in those television shows where they remodel a home in secret. I experienced his joy and was happy to be there for that moment.
For continuing involvement, I reach out and talk to my neighbors about Journey Home, and have visited and written to some businesses. Some have stayed involved. My favorite thing to ask for is a bed (and bedding).
I have received sets of dishes, furniture, coffee table books, playing cards, radios, cleaning products, toothbrushes and televisions. And beds! I enjoy checking our local “Swap Shack” at the recycling center in Canton and spreading the word about Journey Home.
March 3, 2016, was the Homeless and Housing Advocacy Day for the Greater Hartford Coordinated Access Network (GH-CAN). We had about 17 legislators and legislative aids come listen to the personal stories, pertinent facts, and important information regarding the legislative priorities put forth by the Opening Doors Campaign from the Partnership for Strong Communities. These legislative priorities consisted of creating 150 units of permanent supportive housing, expanding rapid re-housing, supporting coordinated access to homeless resources, providing immediate assistance for homeless youth in crisis, developing a Medicaid option for supportive housing services, and expanding access to childcare for homeless children.
With the priorities mentioned, we were able to focus our presentation for the legislative officials on those six topics. We showed the importance and need for their support to help this extremely vulnerable population. We emphasized that with legislative assistance, we can directly help and make a positive impact on the lives of so many people. Advocacy Day is a way to show the faces of those impacted and a way to use the power we have to make a difference. No matter what happens with their vote to move these legislative priorities forward or backward, we helped to further explain the need to help this community. We came out to advocate for more housing and support service resources to ensure all Connecticut residents have a safe place to call home.
Journey Home has some exciting news to share! Michael Ellis was housed at the beginning of March in a two bedroom apartment as part of the Moving On program. Prior to signing a lease and receiving keys to his new place, Mike was a chronically homeless individual residing in the city of Hartford. He has worked diligently for this opportunity and while there were a few bumps along the road, he is now happily settled in his new home. He is looking forward to building a new life after experiencing nearly two years of homelessness and living in shelters in Hartford.
Mike worked with Making a House a Home to furnish his new home with chairs, tables, and beds. The second bedroom will be set up as a place for his children to sleep in when they come to visit. He moved into his apartment with nothing but a backpack and the clothes on his back. He now has a dish set, towels, and a coffee maker in his kitchen.
His goals for the future include finishing his education and getting his GED. Now that he is in stable housing in a supported environment, Mike will be able to rebuild a relationship with his children, pursue school, and take some time to care for his mental health. Mike continues to stay connected to services since moving in so he can be in a better position of taking care of himself and provide for his children. He hopes that sharing his story will help others experiencing homelessness find their way to housing as well.
Providing connections to stable housing for all individuals and families living in shelters and on the streets in the Greater Hartford area is the ultimate goal for Journey Home’s initiative to end chronic homelessness. Mike is just one example of how finding a new home after an experience of homelessness can open new doors to a brighter future.