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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.

Innovative Housing Option Comes to Hartford

In partnership, Journey Home, the City of Hartford and Imagineers have implemented an unprecedented new preference in the City’s Housing Choice Voucher Program (formerly known as Section 8). This preference is intended to create more affordable housing for those experiencing chronic homelessness (those with long term homelessness who also have disabilities). As the entity that maintains the By Name List of individuals experiencing homelessness in our region, and the entity that convenes all of the Coordinated Access Network agencies, Journey Home was perfectly situated to serve as the liaison between homeless service providers and Imagineers in the coordination of this program. Homeless services providers are offering those who have been in Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) for many years (and who were previously chronically homeless), the chance to “move on” and become more independent through this program. This creates openings in the PSH programs that can then be offered to our chronically homeless individuals who benefit from the intensive support services attached to these programs.

In only three months, the initial result of this model has the potential to reduce chronic homelessness by 33%. The City of Hartford has now paved the way using this model and is helping us reach our goal of ending chronic homelessness in our community. It is this sort of innovative thinking that has created great costeffectiveness and has allowed us to become a city that is leading the nation in creative solutions to homelessness. As we work towards our Zero 2016 goal of ending chronic homelessness by the end of this year we are thrilled to have the City of Hartford and Imagineers make such a huge commitment to helping us get there!

It’s a Family Affair for the Pinettes

About a year ago, I noticed Facebook posts regarding Journey Home and Making a House a Home. As a family, we had been looking for an opportunity to volunteer our time together and are so glad that we chose Journey Home. The concept of combating homelessness and helping to provide the structure (literally and figuratively) is so very important to help others move forward and was exactly what we had been looking for.

The first task I did was to help to provide a Thanksgiving meal for a newly housed family. Baking while using several of my late grandmother’s recipes made the experience even sweeter as it brought back great memories for me as well. Soon after that we began to help collect furniture and household goods for Making a House a Home and were honored to be able to volunteer on our first “move-in” day shortly thereafter. It is almost indescribable the feeling we get when we help to transition a sometimes totally empty apartment into a comfortable living space. Equally as difficult to put into words is the looks and hugs of gratitude we get when leaving a new home.

During these deliveries, a new idea was developed. Many of the parents/caregivers we serve can’t afford the luxury of buying toys for their children. While on the surface toys aren’t a necessity, delivering a few toys, books, games, etc during move-in days would brighten the children’s days and would, for sure, be appreciated by the parents/caregivers. After just one Facebook post, the donations began pouring in and our basement has become the storage area for toys, games, puzzles, books, and more. A bag of age-appropriate items will be included in every delivery to a family with children. Our first such delivery is planned for this weekend and we cannot wait to see the looks on the children’s faces when we deliver each a bag of playthings!

We are so grateful to be able to be a part of this wonderful organization and have the opportunity to help to repair the world.

-Amy Pinette on behalf of the Pinette Family (Amy, David, Eliza, and Lillie)

How Can You Get Involved With Making a House a Home?

We are still finding homes for people at a very quick rate and the need to furnish these new homes is significant. The people that are currently being housed are moving from the streets or emergency shelters into apartments of their very own. Many of them have very few possessions and no furnishings. It is our hope that we can offer them not only a home, but also some basic necessities to help them get started.

We have seen amazing connections develop between clients and faith groups, families, businesses, and neighborhoods. Our hope is that more of these groups will come together to support those who are currently transitioning from homelessness to housing.

One volunteer summarized her experience by saying, “Being in the Real Estate industry, we see people buying, selling and renting homes every day and find gratification in helping them do so. But being a part of helping the Journey Home clients is beyond anything we have ever experienced. The appreciation our team at Coldwell Banker received and the joy we witnessed reminds us never to take for granted the value of a HOME! ” – Sherri K. Schwartz

On a recent Friday a group of four employees from The Hartford came together to deliver furniture and mattresses to 5 clients in the Hartford community. These four men were able to make a significant impact in the lives of others during just one morning of volunteering. It’s amazing how such small and simple acts make all of the difference.

This program is one of the first steps to help them get back on their feet, feel stable in their new home, and increase their quality of life. With our amazing volunteers and donors we are able to make sure that our clients don’t have to worry about how they will afford furniture or how they will sleep at night without a bed. Our Making a House a Home program may not solve all of their problems, but by receiving donations and bringing volunteers together to deliver furniture to these clients, we are giving them one less thing to worry about. Furniture and household goods allow the clients a more relaxing and comforting space they can call their own.

Both of our volunteer groups from Coldwell Banker and The Hartford were able to take a few hours out of their busy schedules to make a difference in the lives of people they otherwise may never have met. If more businesses, families, and neighborhoods could come together for a just a few hours, our community would be a happier place, where everyone can have a bed to lay their head at night. If you or your group would like to have this kind of experience to help someone in need, you should consider helping a chronically homeless individual or family. We would love to make that match for you! Please contact Alison Scharr at alison.scharr@journeyhomect.org for more information.

The New Mercy Diversion Center is Now a Reality

On July 5th, Mercy Housing and Shelter Corporation launched a new “Diversion Center” program at St. Elizabeth House. Relying on best practices and successful outcomes, Mercy Team Members worked to design this program for nearly nine months to have it become a reality. The program was the idea of Mercy’s Executive Director, Dave Martineau. “I’ve worked in programs most of my life and I know the challenges people are facing to stay in their homes successfully”, said Dave Martineau. I knew if we could create a program that could help people navigate the obstacles, and remove the barriers for them; it would have a huge impact on moving them out of homelessness.” The program is designed to “divert” people from becoming homeless, or work to quickly get them back into housing. When someone loses their housing, they come to the City of Hartford seeking shelter, but in reality, according to a recent workshop hosted by Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, nearly thirty percent of the people in this situation can be diverted from this tragic outcome with minimal mediation. Often the solution can be overcome with little or no money to reverse the events leading to homelessness, saving thousands of dollars to the city and state.

Mercy’s Diversion Center provides an array of services designed to help the individual facing problems that have contributed to their current situation. This new program was created with an unprecedented collaboration of many programs in the City of Hartford. We are appreciative to the homeless providers that are sending staff to assist. These providers include: Journey Home, Salvation Army, Chrysalis Center, and Community Health Resources. “We are meeting with on average, twenty-five people per day who have been scheduled through 211 Infoline,” said Judith Gough, Associate Executive Director of Mercy. “Having these community providers involved moves the process along quicker. We have been overwhelmed by the need of the homeless community. As fast as we can meet with clients, more are contacting 211 Infoline to schedule appointments,” said Judith.

In Mercy’s new Diversion Center, Case Managers assess each person’s situation and determine what mediation is needed. In some cases, it might be calling a family member to bring them back together and allow the client to return to their home. While they are at St. Elizabeth House, clients can see a Nurse or Physician’s Assistant in the new medical suite staffed by Charter Oak Health Center. Clients can also enjoy a warm meal in the soup kitchen, or take a hot shower.

A few weeks ago the Diversion Center had a need for nonperishable food, undergarments, toiletries, and children’s clothing. “We had families coming in with children wearing the same clothing each day,” said Judith. She reached out to Mercy’s Development Director and a number of groups responded, offering to hold a collection and purchase items from a “Wish List” created on the popular Amazon shopping site.

Evonne Klein, Commissioner for the Connecticut Department of Housing, was recently asked about the success of Mercy’s Diversion Center. She said, “Mercy planned for months, working closely with our office along the way, to ensure that they would be able to effectively address the needs of homeless individuals and families in Hartford. We’re proud to support Mercy’s good work, which will have a lasting impact for years to come.”

Dinner in the Park

On a beautiful late July evening we gathered with our friends at Max Downtown and hosted our 3rd Dinner in the Park. We laid out the linens, prepared the salads, arranged the delicious sandwich wraps and waited for our friends to descend on Bushnell Park. Descend they did.

Over the course of an hour we handed out over 300 sandwiches. People from all over the city were able to join together to eat and converse and relax. We met new friends, connected with old, and made lots of introductions. We were also able to hand out over 250 pairs of socks from our friends at Bombas.

Dinner in the Park is also a fundraiser for Journey Home, but it’s a unique one. We are very intentional about the events we plan and we feel it is important that we always ask four questions as we plan our fundraising events:

● Does it build awareness around the issue of homelessness?

● Does it allow us to support our community partners?

● Are we giving back some way to the people we serve?

● And are we raising sufficient funds to keep our organization thriving?

Events like Dinner in the Park happen because of community partnerships and people working together. We continue to be very grateful for our friends at Max Downtown and Max Restaurant Group for the ways in which they support our organization. We are also grateful to all of you, our supporters. Sponsoring a dinner allows us to continue to do the great work that we are doing. Our next Dinner in the Park will be held on Saturday, October 29th at 5pm in Bushnell Park. More information about that event and how you can sponsor a dinner can be found here: journeyhomect.org/donate

Zero: 2016 Progress

The Zero: 2016 Campaign to End Chronic Homelessness in Connecticut has been operating for almost 11 months now, and in that time new partnerships and collaborations have helped create major systemic changes.

In the past months, the Zero: 2016 Team, a dedicated group of frontline staff, have coordinated several events including a Landlord Recruitment Breakfast to develop new relationships with local landlords, a Document Fair aimed to help those experiencing homelessness collect essential identification documents required for housing. With the campaign under way for nearly a year, we have made huge strides towards housing more of our chronically homeless population. Since October, 2015, when the campaign began, more than 100 chronically homeless households have been housed. With only a few months remaining in the campaign, the team needed to collaborate with all of the staff who are doing the work of finding units, meeting with landlords, and negotiating leases to see where we could improve the process.

On Tuesday, September 27th, housing case managers and program managers from all over the Greater Hartford region met with the Zero: 2016 Team to brainstorm how we can speed up the process for housing chronically homeless clients. Some areas that have been challenging in recent months are locating handicap accessible units, working with households who had high utility bills, assisting with security deposits, and communication between agencies. Some of the successes they highlighted included housing clients extremely quickly, the beginning of the Diversion Center as a one-stop-shop, and new connections with the Polish Embassy, that has helped with obtaining identification documents. The group also highlighted the successes of Journey Home’s work to encourage collaboration. The group plans to begin hosting more regular landlord engagement events and create stronger partnerships with landlords in the efforts to end chronic homelessness.

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