Connecticut is set to receive just over $18 million in federal money to help fund services for the unsheltered homeless population, although advocates say it isn’t enough to meet the rising demands faced by an underfunded system.
The $18 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will be spent over three years on homelessness outreach, funding for the coordinated access network and permanent supportive housing for the state’s population of people experiencing homelessness who are staying outdoors, as opposed to living in shelters. It’s set to go to the Balance of State Continuum of Care, a network of homelessness service providers, officials said at a Friday press conference in New Haven.
“When we put housing first, that’s the foundation to help people obtain the help with recovery, health care, jobs, that all works,” said Richard Cho, a senior advisor at HUD. “We’ve seen that simple formula put to work.”
The most recent annual count of the unhoused population showed that there were hundreds of people experiencing homelessness statewide who weren’t in shelters.
The Friday announcement comes one day after service providers told lawmakers on the Housing Committee about a need for a $50 million investment to annualize money for cold weather services, increase service providers’ pay and cover other infrastructure in the state’s homeless response system.
Advocates said Friday that the grant is a step forward, but it’s not a replacement for the state investments they’re requesting.
“This is one-time funding,” said Sarah Fox, chief operations officer at the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness. “We have a huge challenge serving people. We need investment from the state.”
Homelessness data showed an increase in the population for the first time in years in January 2022 — from 2,594 in 2021 to 2,930. And providers said Friday that it’s continued to rise since then.
Gov. Ned Lamont said his new budget, which he’ll announce later this month, includes one of the “biggest commitments to housing,” in years but didn’t directly say whether he supports the additional $50 million.
The budget, he said, includes investments in deeply affordable housing and workforce housing, among other measures.
The state lacks tens of thousands of units of housing that are affordable to its lowest-income renters, one of the challenges homelessness service providers have faced in recent years.
“I need more options,” Lamont said, of housing.
Connecticut was one of 46 recipients of HUD’s new set of grants and vouchers to address unsheltered and rural homelessness, one of several recent measures the Biden administration has announced to help alleviate a nationwide housing crisis.
The need for supports for the unsheltered population becomes even more urgent as temperatures drop, said Sen. Richard Blumenthal.
“This weather is bone-chilling, frigid and deeply dangerous,” Blumenthal said. “We’re at a point of maximum danger in terms of public health right now. We’re talking here about survival.”
The grants total $315 million, and HUD officials plan to announce more recipients in the coming weeks.
In Connecticut, $2 million will be spent each year on homelessness outreach, said Steve DiLella, director of the state Department of Housing’s Individual and Family Supports Program.
Another $2 million will go to local hubs in the coordinated access network.
Previously, people could get an intake appointment by calling 211. In December, the state decided to allow a few local shelters, called “hubs,” to accept people into the system directly, in addition to 211 calls, DiLella said.
The other $2 million annually will pay for permanent supportive housing for people getting off the streets. That type of housing will include mental health and addiction services.
Mental health issues and addiction are often barriers to accessing shelter for people. The state’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services will receive 40 housing vouchers for people exiting homelessness, Commissioner Nancy Navarretta said Friday.
Sen. Chris Murphy called for more housing.
“As much as these services are important, we don’t have enough housing, we do not have enough units in this state and in this country,” Murphy said.