Bridgeport — Tony Poole came for a haircut.
But he stayed, he said, to fill out an application for permanent supportive housing. It was just the latest step the 32-year-old Bridgeport resident is taking to pull his life together.
Poole was one of the more than 300 people who came to the 7th Annual Project Homeless Connect event at the United Congregational Church, in the downtown area of the state’s most populous city.
In the packed hall, people laughed and hugged each other, as Christmas music blared through the speakers. But through the joy was the sobering reality that so many needed the free services for the homeless this season.
“It’s so great to see so many faces, but it’s also very sad,” said Lisa Bahadosingh, an event coordinator.
The church parking lot had filled up by 9:30 a.m., and doors opened at 10. People had to move cars to make room for a bus from the state Department of Social Services, whose employees came to determine the income eligibility for anyone interested in the services being offered.
Providers from the Bridgeport area — called the Greater Bridgeport Continuum of Care — helped give haircuts, medical and dental exams, hot meals, HIV/AIDS testing, flu shots, legal assistance, food and clothing vouchers and information about mental health and addiction services — all for free.
New to the event this year was a single, comprehensive application for permanent supportive housing programs located throughout Fairfield County — in Norwalk, Fairfield, Westport, Stamford, Stratford and Greenwich, in addition to Bridgeport. Permanent supportive housing programs provide stable housing in addition to a variety of social services, such as mental health and addiction treatment or job training.
The line for the applications rarely let up. Bahadosingh said that nearly 150 applications were distributed in just the first two hours.
“It’s sad, really,” said Bahadosingh, who is also a team leader for Supportive Housing WORKS, an alliance of four leading housing providers in Fairfield County. The service providers don’t have the capacity to fill out applications with everyone, so many of the applications were taken home, she said.
“We’ve already had to make another huge batch,” she said. “I have a feeling that we’re going to get a lot of applications back.”
The 10-page application covers more than 30 individual permanent supportive housing programs and services, enough to make a small dent in the estimated 500 homeless people in the Bridgeport area. The Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness (CCEH) counted the homeless one January night in 2011 for its annual “Point in Time Count” (PIT). The PIT also estimated that 27 percent of the total included families with children, a targeted group for permanent supportive housing.
“What we believe in very strongly here is a housing first model,” said David Rich, executive director for Supportive Housing WORKS in Bridgeport. Rather than placing someone in a shelter, drug treatment program or transitional housing, it’s most important to find housing for the individual in order to deal with other problems, he said.
“The thought process behind that is it’s going to be very hard to deal with the mental illness, the addictions, any other issues, unless someone has a safe home first,” he said.
Bahadosingh said she and other permanent supportive housing providers will sit down together when they get most of the applications back to determine all the various programs each applicant is eligible for. A single online application and a universal computerized waiting list is their eventual goal, she said.
“It could determine which individuals are eligible for which programs, and it will forward that application to each of those different housing providers,” Bahadosingh said.
“We want to make sure that people have one easy point of entry to get on multiple wait lists,” she said.
For now, permanent supportive housing providers in Greater Bridgeport will use the paper universal application. Bahadosingh listed her phone number on the front of the application in case any applicant needs to update his or her contact information. Members of Supportive Housing WORKS and other housing providers will continue to meet in the coming months and make progress toward developing a computerized application system, she said.
Tony Poole, who said he lives now in transitional housing, explained that he’s interested in applying for permanent supportive housing because that may be the only way he gets to see his son and daughter.
Poole, who said he used to sell drugs, explained that social services workers in the region gave him occupational therapy, medication to stabilize his mood and the transitional housing.
“They’ve built my self-esteem and my confidence,” Poole said of the social services workers.
And now, he said, “It’s time to write a new chapter.”