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My Sisters' Place Closing Its Emergency Shelter, Turning To Transitional Housing


May 06, 2009

My Sisters' Place opened more than a quarter-century ago in Hartford as an emergency shelter for women and children. But in the coming weeks that is expected to end as the organization places the last of its remaining clients in the 16-bed emergency shelter program with another agency.

But contrary to rumors circulating in recent months, the rest of the organization isn't following suit.

"We are not closing, we are restructuring our shelter," said Diane Paige'Blondet, executive director and CEO of My Sisters' Place.

Paige'Blondet said that the organization has been discussing closing the emergency bed shelter, where clients could stay for up to 60 days, for about five years to focus more on its mission to end homelessness.

"We never focused on it because we were always putting out fires," she said.

But now they will, as the organization puts an emphasis on rapid rehousing and transitional housing in which clients who have to work, volunteer or receive job training for a minimum of 20 hours a week can live for up to two years.

The goal, Paige'Blondet said, is to provide a stable environment and services so that once clients leave, they don't come back, as was the case with the emergency shelter.

"We have had a mother and her child [in the shelter], and years later the child comes back with her own family because it's what she knows," Paige'Blondet said.

But with the increased focus on long-term housing solutions, the organization hopes to end the cycle of repeated homelessness. The organization has 30 units of supportive housing and is "shovel-ready" to build another 30 units with a proposed $10 million project adjacent to the Pliny Street transitional living facility.

The move does come at a cost of much-needed beds in Hartford's emergency shelter community, which in January ran at 100 percent capacity and even now, as the weather gets warmer, is running near 95 percent capacity, said Carol Walter, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness.

Walter said she's always concerned when the city loses an emergency shelter bed, but added that My Sisters' Place's move to long-term solutions might be a good idea.

"They're not on the wrong track, but I don't advocate for closing shelters," Walter said Tuesday. "We have to see how this plays out."

Brian Baker, assistant director at the South Park Inn homeless shelter in Hartford, which has been at full capacity for the past two weeks and had to turn away seven women and two children on Tuesday, also has concerns.

"If we can get these [long-term] programs going, that's great," he said. "But between now and then ... what do we do? The need is not going to go away."

Baker said he wishes there were an alternative to My Sisters' Place making the decision to discontinue the emergency shelter operation, but he understands the reasoning.

"Nothing against My Sisters' Place. They have done yeoman's work," he said. "But it saddens me that there are fewer of us than there were."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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