Collaborating to End Homelessness
The Many Faces of Homelessness
They are single mothers with children, two-parent families, veterans damaged from war, and teenage runaways. Some have been recently evicted after losing their jobs while others have been on the streets for many years, suffering from mental illnesses and addictions. There is not one face to homelessness. There are many.
"There used to be an idea of what a homeless person looked like.That's not true anymore if you see a person on the street you would have no idea that they're homeless or formerly homeless; it's a broad spectrum. Anyone can end up there,” says Toni Dolan, executive director of the Beth-El Center in Milford.
|During the cold winter months, area homeless shelters are often filled beyond capacity. To help those who either cannot get to a shelter in time or simply refuse to go, Columbus House has opened a warming center in the social hall at Church on the Rock. Learn more.
Until recently, the system for dealing with homelessness had been a patchwork of shelters and service agencies working independently to help people get back on their feet. Every agency had a different screening and application process that frequently required difficult to obtain documentation and confusing forms. That approach has changed.
Prompted by a new federal law, homeless providers are now collaborating to streamline the application process and move people into housing as quickly as possible. And they have a new goal -- ending the condition of homelessness altogether.
- In 2015, New Haven saw a 26% drop in its homeless population from a five-year high counted in 2013.
- In 2015, New Haven's homeless population was 14% of the state's total homeless count.
- Three hundred seventy-five of the homeless counted were single adults, 111 were children in families and 81 were adults in families.
- The number of chronic homeless adults (those experiencing long-term or repeated homelessness) dropped 49% from 2014 to 2015.
- Veteran homelessness dropped 63% from 2014 to 2015.
- New Haven County had the highest percent of homeless families in the state in 2014.
A New Era of Collaboration
|Opening Doors refined its objectives to end homelessness among veterans by 2015, the chronically homeless by 2016, and children and families by 2020.
Behind the downward trend in homelessness numbers is a strategy started by the federal government and carried out by a network of local shelters, and mental health and human service agencies.
The strategy began with the 2009 Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act, which set in motion an ambitious national goal of ending homeless altogether. To help accomplish this, the Dept. of Housing Urban Development (HUD) changed its funding models to encourage collaboration among front-line homeless agencies.
Greater New Haven Opening Doors2 is the local response to the challenge. Representatives from shelters, health centers, funders, and city and state offices put in place a new system called the Coordinated Access Network. The crisis hotline Connecticut 211 was established as the “front door” for all homeless and about-to-become homeless individuals and families to receive services.
Based on a preliminary screening, people are either placed in an appropriate shelter bed or directed to resources that will help them remain housed. Everyone who enters the system then receives detailed, in-person assessments which match them with the appropriate providers who help them secure permanent housing as soon as possible.
“Once people get housed they tend to stay housed. We have a very low fall out. It really works toward the goal of ending chronic homelessness,” says Alison Cunningham, executive director of the homeless shelter Columbus House.
The new model emphasizes preventative services and coordination among all service providers who work with the homeless. Case managers and health workers who once worked independently are now collaborating so that people receive the right level of services that will help them stay housed.
“Instead of one agency owning a client, we want to open an array of resources to the client,” Cunnigham says. “We ask, ‘What are the needs of this person, and where is the agency who could best serve them? Now people don’t have to go through 16 steps before getting into housing.”
Setting Ambitious Goals
The objective for Opening Doors are:
- End homelessness among veterans by 2015
- End chronic homelessness by 2016
- End homelessness among children and families by 2020.
Connecticut announced in February, 2016, that it had ended homelessness among veterans.
"When we say that we are ending homelessness, it doesn't mean that there will be no more homelessness ever. It means that homelessness will be temporary and brief and that we have a path into housing right away, rather than having people languishing in shelters or coming in and out of shelters," says Kellyann Day, CEO of New Reach, a New Haven agency that serves homeless women and children. .
Day notes that while targeted government funding has provided solutions to end veteran and chronic homelessness, the resources are not sufficient for homeless families and teenagers.
The Benefits to Stability
Families and individuals staying homeless shelter systems for extended periods cost more money than those who are moved to permanent housing. In addition, people in shelters use the emergency room and end up in prison at far greater rates than people in stable housing, adding to the costs of homelessness.3
Ongoing Barriers to Housing
At the core of the homeless problem in Greater New Haven is the limited housing capacity. The city has one of the lowest apartment vacancy rates in the country and housing in the surrounding cities and towns is expensive.
One in five households in Greater New Haven spends more than 50% of its income on housing, one of the highest housing-cost-to-income ratios in the country.4 From 1990 to 2011, while the median income of renters increased by 9%, the median rent increased by 50%3. A renter in the New Haven metro area must earn a housing wage of $23.52 per hour, or $48,922 per year, to afford a typical two-bedroom apartment.5
Criminal Records and Returning from Prison
A felony conviction will disqualify most applications for private and public housing. Various housing programs exist for people released from prison under community supervision and for those who enter substance abuse and/or mental health service providers. Most formerly-incarcerated people, however, have completed their sentences and are not part of a program that provides housing assistance.
Limited Access to Rental Assistance
Housing subsidies are the primary way to prevent families from becoming homeless or returning to homelessness, according to the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness. Yet the supply of subsidies is overwhelmed by the demand. The last time the state Dept. of Housing (DOH) opened its waiting lists for applications to the Rental Assistance Program (RAP) and Section 8, the state and federal programs that assist low-income families with affording housing, was 2007. The DOH received 48,000 applications but could only place 5,000 on the RAP waiting list and 7,000 on the Section 8 waiting list.6
The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven has a long history of supporting organizations that assist the homeless in Greater New Haven.
New Reach and the New Haven Coordinated Access Network reduced the number of homeless families waiting for housing from 56 to 26 and reduced the number waiting to be assessed for emergency shelter from 150 to 30 thanks to a 2016 grant from The Community Foundation’s unrestricted funds and the Caroline Silverthau Fund, combined with funding from HUD.
Other recent grant recipients include:
1. 2015 Homeless Point-in-Time Count, Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness.
2. Opening Doors Greater New Haven includes Columbus House, New Reach, Liberty Community Services, Spooner House, Beth-El, Yale New Haven Hospital, The City of New Haven, BH Care, Youth Continuum, and United Way of Greater New Haven.
3. Spellman, Brooke et.al. Costs Associated with First-Time Homelessness for Families and Individuals. U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development Office of Policy Development and Research. 2010. P-1.
4. Abraham, M, et al. (2013). Greater New Haven Community Index 2013. DataHaven. p. 43.
6. CT Dept. of Housing, accessed 4/28/2016.
© The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven