This has been quite the busy year with our Making a House a Home program! We have had our first and now our second Home Makeover, a few fantastic client adoptions one of which you can read more about through our “In Their Own Words” section, and numerous move-ins with volunteers from The Hartford and HYPE just to name a few.
However, one of the highlights of this year has been being able to work with a group of volunteers that has exceeded all expectations, they go above and beyond the typical volunteer, and have committed to helping end homelessness just like we here at Journey Home have. To Alison, our Volunteer and Communications Coordinator, they are truly members of the team. Matt Brewer, Rob Dulitsky, Judy Cooke, and Fabricio Suarez have been vital members of the Making a House a Home program. Committing time during the week to help pick up furniture in the community and deliver to clients in need. They go above and beyond, move furniture with and without staff present, pick up furniture from neighbors and friends, and offer their free time to help those in need. They are a group of people with great minds and even bigger hearts. This program has been able to help at least three times the number of people because of volunteers like them.
We are so thankful and blessed to have volunteers like them in this community, helping Journey Home and other non-profits. They and their families are truly making a difference in this community. Thank you, Matt, Rob, Judy, and Fabricio! We couldn’t do it without you!
Journey Home is seeking volunteers to assist with the annual Homeless Youth Count! The Youth Count is a survey that is completed with young adults, aged 13-24 to help us identify how many young people are homeless or unstably housed in Connecticut. This year’s Youth Count will take place January 24th-January 30th.
In the last few years, Journey Home has learned a lot about our current homeless system thanks to the many different data systems in place throughout Connecticut. But we know that young people experiencing housing instability often don’t go into shelters or seek help through the usual channels. Because of this, the Youth Count is a week-long period where volunteers across the state administer surveys to young adults to learn more about housing instability while identifying the resources that are needed to help end youth homelessness.
The survey, which is anonymous, is completed using a smartphone or tablet, and Journey Home is seeking volunteers to help administer the survey. Surveyors can sign up to help out for a couple of hours or more throughout the course of the week. Sign up to volunteer by clicking the link in the Winter Newsletter. Or copy the link below and paste it into your browser.
Without knowing it at the time, growing up in a gritty section of Albany, New York may have prepared Kenneth for his life ahead. Or maybe it was losing his father to sickle cell anemia at the age of 5. Or maybe it was watching his mother walk out the door on him and his two younger brothers just after his 6th birthday. Maybe it was all of those things combined or none of them. Resourcefulness and resiliency was a must for him as life took its not so gentle twists. And he learned those two things at a very young age.
Kenneth says that Albany is the most beautiful place on earth. One can’t doubt him as these words flow out of his mouth with such truth. His confidence about this statement and the facts he lays forward to prove it, would make most people jump in their car and get themselves up to Albany just to gaze at its spectacular beauty. For Kenneth, Albany is home and home is where beauty resides.
Kenneth left his beloved Albany to follow a work opportunity and landed in Springfield about ten years ago. Things were going well. He had an apartment, new friends, a good job. He liked Springfield – it was no Albany, but he saw glimpses that this place could be a great new home for him. And it was, but sometimes life can take us in an unexpected direction. All the planning in the world can’t prepare one for life’s ups and downs. Shortly after moving to Springfield, Kenneth was laid off from his job. He had a couple of choices to make – go back to Albany or stay and make it work in Springfield. He chose the latter.
His decision to stay in Springfield changed the course of his life, but he shares with the utmost conviction that it was the absolute right decision. He says that he wouldn’t be who he is today if he had gone back home. And he really likes who he is. The decision to stay in Springfield started his path to homelessness. After losing his job, he lost his apartment. The loss of his apartment opened him up to feelings he had never felt before. The trauma of losing his father and being abandoned by his mother at a young age all came to the surface and for the first time in his life he was confronted with his mental health. It was during this time he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and an anxiety related disorder. It was the beginning of a long road of treatment. But during that time of discovery, all he could feel was gratitude. Gratitude for being alive, for finding himself, and for the path that was set before him.
Eventually, Kenneth made his way to Hartford. He was in and out of shelters and sleeping outside. As his mind was healing, he was getting back on his feet and working again full-time. Even though he was fully employed, he could never scrape together enough money to get his own place. Life is expensive. Especially when you are starting from scratch. But, he never gave up. Never felt like it was too much. He pressed on. And the words of Biblical prophet Jeremiah continually rang in his head. The words that his grandmother taught him so many years earlier, “’For surely I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.’”
Kenneth has a future with hope. He recently moved into his very first apartment after years of homelessness. He continues to work full-time while attending college. He loves his new place and is slowly settling in. He’s also made it one of his life goals to speak out against injustice and to share his story so that others who have walked a similar road can get the help that he received. It’s his deep and abiding gratitude and his rock solid faith that gets him out of bed each morning to find his voice for the voiceless and fight the good fight. And he is home and that is the most beautiful place on earth.
Backbone organizations typically don’t provide direct service. Oddly enough, Journey Home still gets many visitors on a daily basis. Clients coming in to inquire about the Housing Choice Voucher program or simply to ask for help with housing. One recent day, a woman came in to see Kelly Gonzalez, Journey Home’s Peer Specialist. This woman has been known to have been sleeping outside for at least the past year. Kelly’s goal was to get the client verified and document ready for housing. One of the biggest barriers with documentation is obtaining verification for people who are sleeping in places not meant for human habitation.
The woman came in to make an appointment since Kelly has been looking for her in the community. As she was making an appointment, our mailman came in. The client left and he jokingly asked us if she was giving us trouble. He mentioned seeing her every day on his route. A spark went off. Could he be the missing piece? It seemed like it wouldn’t hurt to ask. Although he has delivered our mail almost every day for the past two years, it wasn’t entirely clear if he knew what Journey Home does day in and day out. We began to explain our role in ending homelessness in our region.
It was later revealed that he has seen her sleeping in places not meant for human habitation for the past 9 years, more than 10-15 times a month. He has also witnessed her searching through trash for food on several occasions. He has even gone to the extent of buying her food from fast food restaurants if they are near one. The best part of all this was that he was willing to write all of this on a letter to verify her length of homeless history. This was such a big help for Kelly in completing the client’s homeless verification. Fate is defined as “to be destined to happen.” Was it fate that brought him in when she was here or was it just a coincidence? We don’t know for sure but we can say that she is one step closer to being housed, thanks to our mailman.
Seven years ago, I accepted the job to serve as Journey Home’s Executive Director because I wanted to make a positive impact, and work towards social justice, and I believed that I could do so through this organization. Previous to taking this job, I had been a local community organizer in a nine-block neighborhood in New Haven and I absolutely loved the job, but the issues we were working on were not as focused on marginalized populations as I was feeling called. I also had been a project manager at an international development organization based in New York City and worked all over the Global South. Again, I absolutely loved the job, but in four years, I never visited the same project twice, and I began to feel called toward something in between these two extremes of local and global.
That’s when I found Journey Home, a regional-based organization that was about making systemic and sustainable change. I have never felt so fulfilled at any job I have ever had as I do at Journey Home, and the reason is because I know this organization is bringing about a more just society. “Social justice” is being created because those who are the most vulnerable, “the least of these” are getting the help and housing that they deserve. They deserve it because in the wealthiest country in the world, we can afford to take care of our neighbors in need. We are creating social justice because I know, without a doubt, that the complex social problem of chronic homelessness is being solved. Together with our partner agencies, we are ending chronic homelessness, one person at a time, as a coordinated system, because our donors and supporters and partners believe in the mission. In only two and a half years, we have reduced chronic homelessness in Greater Hartford by 70%. I know that the systemic changes we have made are sustainable, because we see that the people who have fallen between the cracks for years, are now in housing, and the system that is now in place is a better system than we previously had for this vulnerable population. Regardless of budget cuts from every direction, regardless of staff turnover, regardless of the economic problems that our community may face, I believe we have demonstrated enough success to prove that our goal is achievable. And I believe there are enough strong leaders at our partner agencies, our local and state government, our local businesses, and among our donors and supporters who will fight to make sure we continue to bend that arc of the moral universe towards justice. I feel so grateful to have found my calling at Journey Home. And I know that together, we will make homelessness history.
We truly need to thank Journey Home for the opportunity to volunteer our time and effort to such a worthy cause. Not the other way around. Sharon and I have recently transitioned from all consuming vocations. This never gave us the satisfaction that comes with the work we do here. When we see people trying to improve the quality of their lives and know that we are a small part of that change, the reward is also ours.
During this divisive time we live in we think it is more important than ever to be involved in helping our neighbors. An organization like Journey Home
that gets to the root of assisting people as they move in the right direction is the ideal way to help. –Matt & Sharon Brewer
Doing something small can spark a big change for someone who needs it the most. Making someone’s life better is something very special that I have experienced while volunteering at Journey Home. During my experience I helped move mugs, bath curtains, chairs, desks, coffee tables, blankets, TV stands, plates and even a rice cooker into homes. One thing I have learned from this whole experience is how helping the less fortunate makes you feel. The act of physically moving furniture into someone’s home and how much they appreciate you just changed how I looked at the world. It changed who I was as a person. I cannot count how many times we were thanked before and after we brought in those much-needed items. It truly was an amazing and positive learning experience. It really is much better to give than to receive. –Samantha Scott
Greg Han Joins our Team as an AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer
The months before my college graduation this year were a whirlwind. The big corporate employers were recruiting and graduate schools were interviewing students by the dozen. It was in this storm that everyone was asking the same question: “what now?”
The answer came easily for some. They embraced the chaos since they had good, solid plans for their futures. For my part, I began my job search with uncertainty. My long-term target was medical school, but I wasn’t sure how I wanted to get there. I loved my student-athlete experience, and I would do it all again. However, I had spent the better part of two decades following routines and patterns established by my academics and athletics. I felt that it was high time to experience something new.
My desire for change is what led me to the AmeriCorps VISTA program. The swim teams that I have been a part of had all taken the time to serve the community, and the experience was one of the most enjoyable parts of being a student-athlete. For example, it was profoundly rewarding to escape the college bubble and engage with the local community, whether it was on a wildlife reservation clearing brush or on a football field working with shelter residents. Thus, I chose VISTA service so that I could commit to community engagement full-time.
In this way, I found my way to Journey Home. Hartford is close to my home and heart, and it made natural sense for me to return to my roots after gallivanting through college. It is my hope that I can make this year count for Hartford. My experience thus far has made me hopeful for what I can do with the remainder of the year. My work lies on the interface between social work and healthcare, and I see a lot of potential in my project for positive change. The Community Care Team can really help clients with complex needs that require the coordination of healthcare and social services. On the other hand, SOAR can streamline the process of applying for Social Security benefits, and thus make SSI/SSDI more accessible to those who need it most.
I am also glad that I can have this experience so that I can learn about healthcare from the perspective of social services. This way, I can enter medical school with a more detailed understanding of how I can better the community through medicine. I believe that this year will help me to become a better physician. My VISTA service is just starting, but I know that it won’t be long before I’m back on an academic campus. However, when I do emerge again, asking “what now?”, I think that I’ll have a clearer answer than I did during college. With growth comes perspective and learning, and I could not ask for a better place to grow than this.
Kelly Gonzalez joined the Journey Home team as our Peer Specialist in July 2017. Kelly’s passion and commitment to assist those who are most vulnerable, and her unique life experiences, make her great at her job. Prior to joining Journey Home full time, Kelly was a Housing Navigator with Community Renewal Team. Over the past winter, due to her incredible ability to build rapport and trust with those experiencing homelessness, she was hired at Journey Home in a part-time capacity to expedite our efforts to end chronic homelessness in our community. In her new role with Journey Home, Kelly is providing housing navigation services to the subset of the homeless population that are living with behavioral and mental health challenges, many of whom are cycling in and out of the shelters and the hospitals and emergency rooms. She is working with them to establish their housing and homeless histories and obtain the documents they need to obtain stable housing. Kelly is also trained as a SOAR Specialist and can assist her clients with the process of applying for disability benefits which greatly improves the potential for housing stability.
Alison Joins Journey Home Full-Time!
Two years ago we were fortunate enough to have Alison Scharr join our team as a part-time intern through the UConn School of Social Work. Alison had just graduated from Quinnipiac College and was in her first year of MSW studies. From the moment Alison joined us, she was off and running. Most of her first year was spent getting our Making a House a Home program off the ground. At the end of her internship, she had clearly demonstrated that she was an invaluable member of the team. She grew the program in ways we could only imagine. In a very short time, Making a House a Home went from operating out of a garage in West Hartford to a thriving program with storage facilities and a cadre of volunteers. While Alison finished up her second year of studies, she continued to work for us on a very part-time basis. She continued to shine at every turn and we knew that hiring her full-time would be a huge leap of faith financially, but a necessary step we needed to take as an organization. We are delighted that Alison is here with us day in and day out. Our volunteers adore her, the clients love her, and the work she is doing makes a difference every single day. She is a great addition to our team and we are thrilled that Making a House a Home can continue to grow and thrive.
We have some fabulous local partners in the Greater Hartford Area! We are thankful to all of those businesses including Whole Foods in Bishops Corner in West Hartford for their continued support of Journey Home. This summer we had two Giving Grill Fundraisers at Whole Foods where we raised over $600! This event included a grilled lunch where Whole Foods donated 100% of the proceeds to our organization. During both events, we were able to talk to those walking by about some of the programs we coordinate here at Journey Home, and also able to make further connections with past and present volunteers and donors, while hopefully also adding new volunteers and donors to our community. Events like these are a great way to work with local businesses and also meet new people in the community that may not have otherwise heard about what we do. We are on the lookout for more businesses to host similar events throughout the holiday season and into the New Year. These events are great opportunities to share the importance of what we do, acknowledge the great local businesses in the Greater Hartford area, and continue to work to end homelessness! Together we can end homelessness, together we can be the change!
Advocacy is an important part of our work here at Journey Home. It has been a challenging year for many as our state lawmakers have spent months coming to an agreement on a budget. Instead of quietly hoping for a budget to pass, we joined forces with other nonprofits around the state for two powerful and very different advocacy efforts.
On August 30th, we joined forces with other nonprofit providers and made our way over to the Legislative Office Building to call on lawmakers to end the budget stalemate and pass a two-year budget. We didn’t demand just any budget; instead we demanded one that funds services for those in need. Gian-Carl Casa, president and CEO of the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance, said every month that goes by without a budget means an increase in the chance that a community provider will be shutting its doors. It also means fewer Connecticut residents will be receiving services.
Rep. Cathy Abercrombie, D-Meriden, said not having a budget is worse.
“I’ve said it for weeks now. We need to bite the bullet and get the budget out and live with the consequences of what this budget shows,” Abercrombie said.
“Is it pretty? I’m going to be honest with you, it’s not,” she added. “It’s not a budget that I personally would like to see … but when people don’t want to be honest about revenue, this is the situation we’re in.”
Knowing that more needed to be done and that the conversation had to continue, we banded together a week later for a rally on the north lawn of the State Capitol. Around 800 people turned out to call on lawmakers and Gov. Dannel Malloy to end the budget impasse. “Pass a budget and protect services,” was the ringing cry throughout the morning. It was a powerful statement and one that shapes our work these days.
Most of the people who are served through our Coordinated Access Network in Greater Hartford are dependent on a state budget that includes them. And we see that part of our mission as a backbone organization is to get out there and stand alongside of our partners and demand action when action needs to be taken. It was a very powerful moment in our organization’s history to be rallying for justice and declaring that all of our voices must be heard.
So, advocacy? Yes, we do that, too!
This summer we were able to make a connection with Lois Coastworth at the New to You Thrift Shop, a local thrift and consignment store in East Hartford. It is a small operation, but one with a big heart! They have decided to help our clients in the Greater Hartford area that are experiencing homelessness or have recently moved into housing. They receive donations of household items as well as clothing and have created a voucher for those in the Homeless Service System to receive a few pieces of free clothing and accessories to help them get started during this difficult time. This store is sponsored by the Friends of East Hartford Senior Care Centers, Inc., a nonprofit organization whose mission is to raise funds to support the programs and activities at the East Hartford Senior Centers. All proceeds from the thrift shop benefit East Hartford older adults through the senior centers. The volunteers here, including Lois, have found it in their hearts to not only support the senior centers, but also those in the Greater Hartford area that are experiencing homelessness. Lois and the volunteers at the New to You Thrift Shop have a strong commitment to homelessness, the elderly, and affordable housing. They understand the importance of services like the ones at the thrift shop and they are delighted to be able to provide help to those who are experiencing homelessness. All of us are connected and we are blessed to have a partnership with the New to You Thrift Shop, and look forward to continued connections in the future with them and others in the community!