After the immense successes and progress made by the 100-Day Campaign in Greater Hartford, the region is more motivated than ever to take on another, even more ambitious campaign.
Zero: 2016 is a national campaign geared towards ending chronic homelessness. Ending chronic homelessness would mean that all households who have been homeless for a year and who have a disability would be housed, and if any other households who meet this definition are identified by our system, they will be immediately matched with a housing program and supports. The idea is that by focusing energy and setting an ambitious timeline for identifying and housing our most vulnerable neighbors, we can create a better functioning system that serves those who are most in need quickly. On October 28th, leaders and front line staff from around Connecticut came together to start planning, organizing, and making changes in preparation for this campaign.
What sounds like a great idea will come with a lot of work. In Greater Hartford alone, there are an estimated 360 households who will meet the definition of chronically homeless who will need to be matched with homes in the next 12 months to meet our goal. That would mean housing the homeless at a faster rate than we have ever seen in Connecticut. But through groundbreaking collaboration between state agencies like the CT Department of Housing and the CT Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, federal partners at HUD, and dozens of local nonprofits focused on homelessness, we’re seeing unprecedented changes. Community providers from the corporate, government, and nonprofit spheres have come together to figure out how to get more essential housing resources to the homeless in our area.
Connecticut is one of only four states participating in this campaign and is leading among these four. Within our state, eight regions have established robust teams made up of our best front line providers to change the way we think about housing, homelessness, and how we can meet our goals. In Greater Hartford, our team of 12 includes representatives from Community Renewal Team, ImmaCare, Community Health Resources, Veterans’ Inc., Hands On Hartford, Community Health Network, The Open Hearth, Mercy Housing, Chrysalis Center, Cornerstone Shelter, My Sisters’ Place, and Journey Home. This focused team will spend the next 12 months meeting regularly, brainstorming change, forging new connections in the community, and helping to lead our state towards a future without chronic homelessness.
Waking up on a cold, hard floor, with the sun beaming in from your uncovered windows, as you lay there in the clothes you have been wearing for weeks. You try and sit up but your back is aching, your muscles are sore, and you have no reason to get up today. No one should be living like this. Despite having a place to stay, off of the streets, with a roof and four walls, what one could call a house, you are still without a home; you are home less.
Our initiative, Making a House a Home, is starting to form a working group in order to keep this project sustainable. Members will be developing new ideas on how to expand our volunteer base, how to collect more furniture for our friends in need, and how to find the transportation to keep the furniture and clients connected. Members of this working group are going to be instrumental in involving volunteers as they support those who are previously homeless, and helping them get back on their feet.
This is a new undertaking, however it is one that has been making a huge impact on our previously homeless neighbors. Without this project, they would have to spend the little money that they have on furniture and household goods rather than saving up for transportation, health care costs, rent, and utilities. By collecting donations for them, it takes away some of the stress of not being able to afford household items. This group helps Journey Home to support the homeless community even after they are housed.
We are looking to expand our working group. If you are interested in joining us or learning more, contact our MSW intern Alison Scharr at: [email protected].
Journey Home’s Executive Director, Matt Morgan, spent the first three days of December at the SOAR Leadership Academy in New Orleans. The 3-day training was sponsored and facilitated by the SOAR Technical Assistance Center with the objective of creating local leads who can coordinate SOAR in their communities. Matt, along with Patricia Pollicina from Chrysalis Center, and 24 other SOAR leaders from 13 states, learned skills for effectively organizing local SOAR fundamentals trainings and steering committee meetings.
Matt says that the most useful part of the Leadership Academy was learning about best practices used in other parts of the country. “We got a chance to see what has worked in other regions so that we can replicate their success in Hartford.” For example, cities like Nashville and Philadelphia have implemented a quality review process for all SOAR applications, which has resulted in a roughly 98% approval rate for initial applications. “The quality review process is definitely something that we will be including here in Hartford,” Matt says. Participants in the Leadership Academy also discussed successful models for funding and sustainability and shared examples from around the country.
The Leadership Academy also covered techniques for creating an effective SOAR steering committee. The Greater Hartford SOAR steering committee was created at the Greater Hartford SOAR Forum in September of last year. The committee has been meeting monthly to develop and implement an action plan for expanding SOAR in the region. The techniques and practices learned at the SOAR Leadership Academy add will add great momentum to the steering committee and the SOAR initiative in Greater Hartford.
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 [email protected] 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.