Connecticut is a national leader in the effort to end homelessness. In August of 2015, Connecticut made history when we became the first state to end the long term homelessness of veterans with disabilities. We are also on track, through the Governor’s Zero: 2016 initiative, to end the long-term homelessness of all Connecticut residents with severe disabilities by the end of this year.
Rep. Dan Carter wrote in a recent op-ed that our state’s system to addressing homelessness, “merely put a Band-Aid on the hopelessness of those already without a home. Not a solution.” He also referred to the people we serve as, “’statistics’ who will be back out on the street in no time at all.” These statements could not be further from the truth.
For more than a decade and with bipartisan support, Connecticut has chosen to expand systemic, proven solutions rather than short term, crisis driven care, by investing in permanent supportive housing for people with disabilities experiencing long term homelessness.
In an exceptionally effective partnership between public and nonprofit agencies, the state Departments of Housing and Mental Health and Addiction Services, the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, United Way 211, and the Partnership for Strong Communities have worked intensively with local community agencies to implement a system in Connecticut of coordinating access to all resources to address homelessness.
This system focuses on addressing the unique needs of each individual and every family in need. People experiencing a crisis have several options available to them – including those who may be facing a housing crisis or who are already homeless.
Rep. Carter said that no one with a roof over their head should be told that there is no help for them until they are in a homeless shelter. We couldn’t agree more: and that help is exactly what Connecticut’s coordinated system seeks to provide. By calling 2-1-1, people are matched with the crucial services they need: services aimed at addressing whatever issues they face.
Many people may seek emergency shelter, not knowing that there is other assistance available to them. Helping people in crisis with the right assistance to address their needs is an essential part of the fight to prevent and end homelessness. 211 staff are highly trained, and have been very successful helping individuals and families experiencing a crisis with the assistance they need.
Sometimes a low-income person in crisis really just needs support with their child care bills or help with utility payments. Connecting those in need with the right services – not necessarily emergency shelter – can preserve a family or individual’s housing, saving them from homelessness and reducing the cost to Connecticut taxpayers.
At the same time, our emergency shelter providers across the state are working harder than ever before to address the housing needs of those who are most vulnerable as a top priority, to help people in housing crisis with other solutions – rather than just assigning them shelter beds – as often as possible, and to help each person or family to end their homelessness by securing appropriate housing as quickly as possible.
Our nonprofits and state agency partners have never before worked this closely together – and we are seeing real results.
The 2015 Point-in-Time Count, or annual census of homelessness, showed a drop of more than 10 percent in homelessness in our state over 2013. Unsheltered homeless decreased by 32 percent since the last unsheltered count, and the long-term homelessness of those with severe disabilities (or “chronic homelessness”) dropped 21 percent since 2014.
These results speak for themselves. As we move that ball forward, ending the homelessness of our neighbors, including those with the highest needs, who tend to cycle in and out of expensive public systems like emergency rooms and jails, we are saving taxpayers precious resources we can ill afford to waste.
Our shared goal is to ensure that everyone who is homeless can have access to safe, stable, secure, and affordable housing. The Department of Housing, under the leadership of Gov. Dannel Malloy, is dedicated to making this vision a reality.
The state has created or rehabbed 7,221 affordable units since the governor first took office. There are also 2,278 more affordable units under construction and funding commitments in place to create another 5,730 new affordable units. This is nothing shy of real progress and we are getting it done in Connecticut, filling a tremendous hole in our state’s housing system after three successive state administrations that disinvested in affordable housing.
We welcome Rep. Carter’s commitment to work this session for legislation that will make housing, education and healthcare more affordable to residents across Connecticut. We hope he will partner with the Department of Housing, the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, and the Partnership for Strong Communities to move Connecticut forward.
We need explicit support for budgets that provide the much needed funding to create affordable and supportive housing and address homelessness — we need action to advance the work that needs to be done.
The people of Connecticut deserve a government that works for them, and our neighbors most in need deserve the housing and services that will allow them to be stable. We are confident that, by working together, advocates, nonprofits, and state agency partners like the Department of Housing will continue to advance Gov. Malloy’s vision, supported by the majority of the legislature, of safe and stable homes for all residents of Connecticut.
We will work until we have a Connecticut where affordable housing in strong, vibrant, and inclusive communities is accessible to individuals and families across the state and homelessness is a thing of the past.
Lisa Tepper Bates is Executive Director of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness. Alicia Woodsby is Executive Director of the Partnership for Strong Communities.