Helen McCarthy Reflects on Her Experience of Giving Back This Year
A critical family value for me is giving back. There are countless ways to give: time, skills, money. As the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays approach, I try to figure out different ways to give. For the last few years, I’ve discovered that adopting a family (giving holiday meals and gifts) is a terrific experience. I recently connected with Journey Home – so adopting a family who recently transitioned from chronic homelessness to housing seemed perfect. I was able to specify a single parent – since that’s been my personal experience and I know just how difficult it is to be a single parent, especially at the holidays. My children helped with the shopping as well as the drop off. It is so amazing to have my children share the experience and be “hooked” to giving.
The children in our adopted family were wide-eyed and SO excited: Dad was overwhelmed. We were bursting with excitement at being able to provide a sliver of joy to a family that has been through so much. They are a model of having so little material things and so rich in family connection.
Of course it’s great fun to think about thoughtful gifts for family and friends, but nothing compares to the realization that you’ve made a very real difference in a family’s ability to share in the spirit of the holiday: joy, excitement, relaxing dinner with the family. This is what it is all about, and makes our Christmas that much brighter.
Every year on a single night in January, every region in our state (and nation!) conducts a Point-in-Time (PIT) Count of all the sheltered and unsheltered people who are experiencing homelessness. The count includes people who are living in emergency shelters, transitional housing, and those sleeping in a place not meant for human habitation. This year, the count will take place on Wednesday, January 27th. Each region is responsible for coordinating, planning and carrying out the count on a local level. Once again, Journey Home will act as the Greater Hartford suburbs regional coordinator for this year’s PIT count. Journey Home will act as the communication liaison between statewide coordinators, local providers, and coordinated access networks. Please contact Yasmine Ali at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like more information on how to be involved in this year’s PIT Count.
Over the next few months, the City of Hartford along with Journey Home and many shelter providers will continue to work tirelessly to develop solid programs and plans to address the need for sustainable employment for the homeless population. We are moving forward with the development of a shared common employment assessment. This will replace several separate different processes and form previously used by different shelters. We have also started holding informational sessions and trainings for shelter employment specialists. We hope to launch the online common employment assessment early in the New Year, so that we can begin to collect and share important data on the homeless population seeking employment. All of this will allow us to reduce duplication of efforts, create efficiency around collecting information, and spend more time with assisting employment training, job searches, and job development. Journey Home, the City of Hartford and shelter providers continue to work collectively to better serve those seeking employment.
Making a House a Home is a small project that is growing and thriving with the help of volunteers and local organizations in the Greater Hartford area. Some of the organizations that we have connected with are St. John’s Episcopal Church in West Hartford, Jill Merriam Key Hyundai, and Bob’s Discount Furniture!
St. John’s Episcopal Church has helped to furnish the new unit of a father and son with beds, a couch, night stands, kitchen items, and they want to keep helping more clients in the future. Jill and her husband Rob have helped move furniture and other household items in for two clients so far, and have been a huge help in supporting our Making a House a Home project. They have connected us to friends in the area, and have even involved local children by encouraging them to collect, sort, and even move the smaller household items into apartments. This sort of involvement has allowed area children to fully understand the importance of giving back to the community. Bob’s Discount furniture has also been a huge supporter of our work. They reached out to us and offered us gift cards to help furnish the units of newly housed individuals.
Getting our Greater Hartford Community involved has been encouraging, exciting, and very beneficial for this project. These three groups have made a difference in the lives of formerly homeless individuals, and have pushed this project to the next level. With their support we have grown this project; been able to reach more volunteers, spread the word about Making a House a Home, and impact more lives of the previously homeless.
We hope to continue this project in the future and make it sustainable with volunteers, transportation, and donations of furniture and household goods. This project is helping the previously homeless get back on their feet and helping them to focus on the job search and becoming stronger more independent people.
Journey Home is proud to announce that Shawn Robinson has been housed through the Moving On program. Shawn moved into his new apartment on November 20, 2015 after several years of living on the streets of Hartford. Before being placed in his new home, Shawn was chronically homeless and spending his nights sleeping in the passenger seat of his friend’s car. Now he is living in a one-bedroom apartment where he is finally able to feel the comfort of his own bed.
A former addict, Shawn is dedicated to his recovery and maintaining his sobriety. Throughout the housing process, he has worked hard to obtain the necessary documents for his housing program. Prior to being housed he had no social security card, no birth certificate, and no photo ID. Now he has all of his documentation and is settling into his new home and hoping for some peace and quiet from the hectic environment of Hartford. Years of homelessness have taken a toll on his health and his sleep cycle due to the nature of living outdoors in a highly populated city. Now that he has his own place and his mind is not occupied by the stress of living outside or in shelters, Shawn is able to focus on his own health and taking care of his ailing mother.
With the help of volunteers and donations through the furniture program, Making a House a Home, Shawn was also able to get a bed frame, blankets, cleaning supplies, and other necessities for daily living. He is now safely housed in a fully furnished apartment where he enjoys cooking his own meals and spending time with nearby family members. It’s been a long and arduous road for Shawn but with keys to his new apartment in hand, he can look forward to a bright future ahead.
The Cardboard City Sleep Out is a chance for students and youth from across Greater Hartford to raise awareness, deepen their understanding and take ownership of one of our city’s most prominent social injustices. Creating a positive and productive space to hold that sometimes difficult conversation is an important part of what Journey Home does. The gathering of students that took place on November 13th made a clear statement; that the future leaders of our country are ready to end homelessness for good.
The bright young faces started pouring through the doors of McGovern Hall around 6pm; sleeping bags in hand and cardboard stuffed under their arms. They checked in at registration where volunteers from University of St. Joseph took down their names, collected pledges and stacked donations. An honest energy was filling the hall, an understanding that we were all there to put our busy lives on hold for one night, so that an end to homelessness might be one step closer.
Matt Morgan was first to take the stage, and the first to share his unique perspective as Journey Home’s executive director and a local leader in the fight against homelessness. Always passionate and brimming with positivity, Matt assured the crowd that their being here was of the utmost importance.
“Sleeping outside for one night will not make us understand what it’s like to be homeless,” he said, “but we are here to demonstrate our will to learn, share, and contribute to solutions.”
By adding new points of view, encouraging new discussions and offering different tools along the way, each Cardboard City presenter to follow was there to share their contribution to the solution.
The first was Jose Vega, the charming and dedicated director of Hartford’s McKinney Shelter, who shared 20 years of service through a series of stories and photographs. Representing the Hands On Hartford Faces of Homelessness Speakers Bureau was Sarah Ratchford and Gerard Rioux, former homeless residents of Hartford who have now dedicated their lives to education and advocacy. Christina Zarella, a graduate of Harvard, and former alumni of USJ, spoke on her experience as a homeless youth, and those of other young people she met on the streets of California in the 1990’s. Together these guest speakers provided the audience with detailed accounts from the front lines, and a view from the ground in the fight against homelessness.
It was those stories that added honesty and authenticity to the activities and peer-to-peer discussions facilitated later by USJ professors Anthony De Jesus and Katie Martin. As respective directors of the Masters of Social Work and Public Health programs, they offered an academic perspective on the interplay between poverty and privilege, and provided tools to explore how those social dynamics are expressed in our everyday lives.
When 11 pm rolled around the students switched gears and headed outside. A mad scramble ensued to secure the proper amount of cardboard, plastic and tape that would constitute an acceptable shelter in which to weather a chilly night. By midnight, the campus green was peppered with makeshift tenements, where chatter, laughter and the swishing of sleeping bags was beginning to die down. Tonight as they slept, or didn’t sleep, they would be making a silent statement: that homelessness cannot be ignored or pushed to the fringes of public discourse. Here, bright young minds had taken a Friday night out to speak up for one the most overlooked and marginalized populations in our city.
By 8 am the majority of cardboard city had been dismantled, and the soggy, groggy inhabitants stumbled off with day-old bagels in their hands. They left behind a pile of new socks, gloves, hats and hygiene products that were donated later that week to Hartford’s Day of Sharing and Caring. They also left Journey Home with about $250 in donations, a heartwarming sum pulled from the slim budgets of college and high school students. Most importantly there was a feeling left in the air, a sense that just by coming together and opening this rare dialogue, they had made difference.
The Greater Hartford Coordinated Access Network, or the CAN is a total change in how homeless services are provided throughout the state of Connecticut.
In the past, households seeking a shelter would be on their own to both figure out where there are shelters, and call around until they found a bed for which they were eligible. Now, through 211, one phone call can identify where there may be an open bed for a household in need. In the past, housing programs for the homeless operated separate waitlists, and so the clients who were working with seasoned case managers and had fewer barriers were most likely to be enrolled in supportive housing programs. Now, households with the highest barriers, who are the most vulnerable, and who truly need the most assistance are being identified by the community, and are being matched with the highest levels of support available.
The year has not been without growing pains, and the goals of working as a community have forced dozens of agencies to re-evaluate the way we think about providing homeless services. This change has been hard, and it has taken a lot of time. The agencies involved with the GH CAN have spent more than 120 hours in collaborative meetings planning our system, troubleshooting issues, and case conferencing to find housing solutions.
Part of Coordinated Access means that all homeless service providers are now asking the same intake questions, and collecting the same information from all households who come through the homeless services system, and giving us better data than ever before about the population we are serving. Since last fall, more than 1,500 households have been assessed using common language, helping to provide a clearer picture than ever before about the homeless population in Connecticut.
Since March, more than 90 of the most vulnerable households in our region, many of whom have been homeless for many years, are in their own apartments. Individuals who were well-known to dozens of regional shelter staff, but who had struggled to navigate a complex and confusing housing process are now connected to services, and have a stable place to call home each night.
On Friday, October 23rd join Journey Home at Nixs. Starting at 4pm, Nixs will be serving a Journey Home signature cocktail and 100% of the proceeds will go back to Journey Home. Come for dinner and drinks! And that’s not all — at 10pm, Nixs the restaurant turns into Nixs at Night. Nixs is known for its festive nightlife. The DJ will be spinning, the dance floor will be pounding, and all cover charges will be donated to Journey Home. Plan a fun night out and do it all for an important cause.
Sure to be a hub for all downtown dwellers, Blue State Coffee celebrated its grand opening on September 29th. Beyond delivering quality brew, this unique chain creates vibrant cafes that reflect, improve and inspire communities across the northeast. To that end, they choose four local non-profit organizations to partner with for a designated period of time in each of their cafes. Partner organizations receive a financial donation and the support of Blue State Coffee in educating and informing customers about their work.