Danbury Housing Partnership
A Message from the Chairman
“…. how do you assign homework to a child who is homeless…”
The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) will soon unveil its Federal Strategic Plan To Prevent and End Homelessness. The effort to produce the plan was mandated by Congress under the HEARTH ACT and included a nationwide effort to get input from stakeholders engaged in addressing homelessness at the State and local level. Greater Danbury Continuum of Care Co-chair Milena Sangut and I provided input from Danbury’s experiences in implementing the Ten Year Plan To End Homelessness at the New England regional conference held earlier this year in Boston.
One of the major trends that we pointed out that we were seeing in Danbury was that while chronic homelessness appeared to be leveling off among individuals, homelessness among families with children and young adults looked to be increasing and that the risk of becoming homelessness was spreading up the income scale. Based on our information, this seemed to be the result of the severe economic recession that had resulted in a substantial increase in unemployment/underemployment and an associated rise in foreclosures of both rental and ownership properties. Attendees from other communities throughout New England corroborated our observations. As the result of the great recession, economic pressures on lower-income families increased and even middle-class families with what they thought were secure jobs and stable housing were suddenly thrust into homelessness.
Several national studies have recently confirmed that Danbury’s observations are consistent with national trends. A survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors revealed that 76% of the cities surveyed showed an increase in the number of families with children experiencing homelessness even as homelessness among single adults had dropped. New studies by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development conducted at the behest of USICH showed that while progress has been made in addressing homelessness overall, homelessness was increasing among families with children and young adults.
While statistical studies and surveys are necessary to document the needs of families with children and young adults in an objective manner, sometimes it is the recounting of real-life interactions that drives home the need in a personal way that we can all understand. I had this experience recently when reading an article on homeless children in an educational journal that my wife receives. After several paragraphs recounting the statistics regarding homeless children in public school systems a quote from a teacher appeared that crystallized the issue for me. The teacher asked: “How do you assign homework to a kid who doesn’t have a home?”
As someone who struggled through algebra and calculus homework even with the advantages of a safe and secure home environment, I can’t imagine how kids can tackle their educational assignments while being homeless, hungry and worried about what tomorrow might bring. As a parent, I can also empathize with the problems of young adults who face limited employment opportunities as they try to find their way in the world and become productive members of our community. While the statistics are convincing, it is the personal stories that are most compelling as we seek to fashion a community response to address the needs of families with children and young adults in our community. These issues have become top priorities both of the Greater Danbury Continuum of Care under the direction of Milena Sangut and the Partnership’s Social and Supportive Services Committee under the direction of Denise Valeri.
Practical solutions to homelessness among families with children and young adults are emerging across the country. One is the promising strategy of “rapid re-housing” that is currently being tried on a pilot basis in Connecticut. New Opportunities, Inc. of Waterbury currently administers a Homelessness Prevention and Rapid-Housing Program funded through Federal funds administered by the Connecticut Department of Social Service in Connecticut’s Region 5, which includes the greater Danbury area.
The program consists of two components: homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing. Homeless Prevention funds are allocated to assist those at risk of homelessness with a lack of financial resources and support networks to obtain immediate housing or remain in existing housing. Rapid Re-Housing funds provide assistance to those recently homeless living to shelters, on the street or in places not meant for public habitation. Financial assistance is provided in the form of rental assistance, security deposits, utility assistance, moving costs and hotel/motel vouchers.
Funds are distributed in the Greater Danbury region through two local agencies that have entered into partnerships with New Opportunities, Inc. The two local agencies are the Association of Religious Communities (ARC), which is the lead agency of the Dream Homes Community Center collaborative; and the Community Action Committee of Danbury (CACD), which is the lead agency for anti-poverty efforts in Danbury. The efforts of ARC are directed by Executive Director Reverend P.J. Leopold while CACD efforts are supervised by Executive Director Bobby Poole.
New Opportunities reported that in the quarter ending December 31, 2009, a total of $30,159 had been expended in the Danbury region on financial assistance payments to prevent homelessness or institute rapid re-housing efforts to assist needy families and individuals. A total of 43 households and 132 total individuals were assisted during this period. A total of sixty-four persons under the age of eighteen were assisted by the combined efforts of ARC and CACD, representing forty-eight percent of the total number of persons assisted. A total of twenty six persons between the ages of 18-29 were assisted, representing twenty percent of the total number of persons assisted.
While the long-term solution to homelessness must include permanent supportive and affordable housing, development of an effective prevention and rapid re-housing system (perhaps to include a rapid re-housing facility) is crucial to addressing the immediate needs of families with children and young adults. While we can’t make algebra or calculus any easier, we can, by working in concert with our community partners, ensure that Danbury’s children have a safe home in which to do their homework.