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Pushing Supportive Housing

Nonprofits To Rally At Capitol March 4

By REGINE LABOSSIERE, Courant Staff Writer

February 19, 2008

Groups across the state are promoting what they believe is the best way to end homelessness permanent supportive housing.

On March 4, nonprofit groups such as the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness and Reaching Home, a Hartford-based organization whose goal is to create 10,000 new supportive housing units in the state, are holding a rally at the state Capitol called "Supportive Housing Lobby Day."

Permanent supportive housing is independent and affordable housing that offers residents some social and employment services.

The groups are asking state legislators and the governor to fund 650 new units in the 2008 budget to add to the 3,000 existing units across the state.

Kate Kelly, Reaching Home's campaign manager, said the 650 units could cost about $13 million from a few funding sources. She said long-term costs to the state for supportive housing would be less expensive than paying for homeless people who go in and out of emergency shelters.

"It only costs $54 a day to house somebody in supportive housing. Typically with emergency shelters, the person has been in the emergency room, in jail, is circulating in and out of other systems," Kelly said.

Supportive housing also adds stability, she said.

"For individuals with a serious mental illness, unless you know where you're going to sleep every night, it's hard to get recovery. And for families, kids can't do their homework every day if they don't know where they're going to stay," Kelly said.

She said local groups in Manchester, the Farmington Valley and Enfield are organizing supportive housing efforts and 10 communities are creating or have adopted 10-year plans to end homelessness, including greater Hartford, New Britain, greater New Haven and the greater Windham region.

A few years ago, Manchester resident David Blackwell helped create the Manchester Initiative for Supportive Housing, or MISH.

"Supportive housing is the most effective and least costly way to permanently end homelessness," he said.

Since its inception, the nonprofit organization mostly has focused on an awareness of issues facing those without homes and those who are at risk of losing their homes. But recently, the initiative embarked on a new project to find a building in town that it can purchase with the help of other organizations that can be turned into about a dozen supportive housing units.

He explained that the goal of the initiative was to bring a supportive housing project to town "so when we do come out with a project, everybody in the community would come out and say, 'Yeah, we need this.' "

Local shelters also are trying to find ways to help people so they don't have to continue using the emergency shelters. Shelters and nonprofit organizations are using data they collect on their own, as well as statewide data generated from point-in-time counts from this year and last year.

The second annual statewide point-in-time count was conducted Jan. 30, and more than a dozen towns dispatched volunteers to count the homeless in emergency shelters, emergency hospital rooms, the streets, abandoned buildings and wooded areas.

Just like last year, Dennis Culhane, professor of social welfare policy at the University of Pennsylvania, is leading the research team that will analyze the data. The count's data will be used by local and state agencies to quantify their needs and apply for federal funding for emergency shelters and for permanent supportive housing.

The Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness estimates that there are about 33,000 people, 13,000 of whom are children, who are homeless at some point during the year. Last year's point-in-time count revealed that there were about 2,138 single adults and 392 families with children who were either staying in shelters or outside on Jan. 30, 2007. This year's statewide data won't be released until March.

"The [statewide] point-in-time count is going to be most beneficial going forward ... to get a picture of what's going on in Connecticut to know what to expect from clients or guests who are coming into the shelter," said Sarah Melquist, director of shelter and outreach services for the Manchester Area Conference of Churches.

Although the statewide point-in-time count has happened only twice, groups have conducted smaller counts in their own towns for years. For communities to receive federal funding to help combat homelessness, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development requires them each year to survey the number of homeless living in their area.

In Manchester, local groups have conducted weeklong point-in-time counts, which have revealed about 115 to 120 homeless people in town during those periods.

Town officials said the findings from the 2007 data show an increase in those needing mental health and substance abuse services, an increase in the use of clinics and a decrease in the use of emergency rooms, a decrease in the number of homeless children found and an increase in those citing unemployment or underemployment as the reason they are without a home.

Kelly said she hopes that the March 4 rally, as well as data from the homeless counts, help the organizations get the 650 units they're looking for.

"Last year, the point-in-time count showed us the need is there," Kelly said.

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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