Tackling Homelessness in New Haven

Patricia Oprea

Connecticut was the first state in the United States to end veteran homelessness this past year. Now there is another challenge to overcome—ending chronic homelessness.

This refers to people who have been homeless for extended periods, and the timeline is in place. By the end of 2016, organizations across Connecticut hope to have this resolved.

On Tuesday March 1, the Academic Service Learning Office held a panel discussion as part of their Careers for the Common Good series. Moderated by UNH’s distinguished lecturer Susan Campbell, this panel aimed to bring to light the realities and challenges of working in nonprofit and public sectors addressing homelessness.

Four speakers imparted their experiences working in the sector, and explained how anyone can get involved, and why it’s important to do so.

A bit about the organizations present—they are all Connecticut based, and have different methods of addressing homelessness.

Kellyann Day represented New Reach INC, where she has served as CEO since 1997. New Reach has grown to become “the single largest provider of family shelter and family supportive housing in New Haven.  This organization helps families, children, and individuals through emergency shelter, housing, in-home family stabilization, and basic needs. Kellyann oversees the health of the agency and strategic direction.

Steve DiLella represented the Connecticut Department of Housing. He manages the state-funded homelessness programs, shelters, transitional living programs, aids housing, and permanent supportive housing. The Department of housing seeks to revitalize communities “to ensure that Connecticut continues to be a great place to live and work.”

Panelist Mary Ann Haley is the Deputy Director of the CT Coalition to end homelessness. She was inspired to enter this sector because of seeing many youth exit foster care, and enter the issue of homelessness. For this organization, Mary Ann has been working on projects in two areas: ending chronic homelessness by 2016, and ending children and family homelessness by 2020.  The CT Coalition’s mission is to create change through leadership, advocacy, and member’s ability to respond to challenges.

Panelist Malynda Mallory, being born and raised in New Haven, wanted to do good for her own community. She is Manager of Emergency Services at Columbus House, working there since 2004. “I go to work knowing that I’ve helped at least one person every day,” she said, sharing stories of her successes, and showing that an impact can take on any form; every success matters. Columbus house provides shelter and housing, and aims to “foster personal growth and independence.”

About 11,000 households/people and 3,000 youth were homeless in the past year, stated Day. The figure for children is very hard to track, because, according to the panelists, as youngsters can avoid seeming homeless by living with relatives, with friends, neighbors, out of their car, etc.

Day posed the question “What is the cost of homelessness to the system?” The answer is plenty and then more. Homelessness costs more than providing people with living conditions. Campbell mentioned the story of “Million Dollar Murphy,” told by one man befriending and following a homeless man, together discovering that the state and the government have paid costs upwards to $1 million in aid for him. It is cheaper to get people settled than to move them, Day said.

“People get arrested for petty crimes, so they have food and a place to sleep,” states DiLella, addressing the addition this as higher cost and ultimately affecting taxes.

Panelists were asked what the most problematic group in the system was, and the answers were not typical. Usually, people may think homelessness is due to “laziness” or drug or alcohol addiction. While the panelists comment on the latter, one of the biggest problems is LGBTQ youth. Haley addressed the LGBTQ youth represent about 25 percent of the total youth homeless population. DiLella agreed and mentioned how difficult it is to house people who have been previously convicted of a sex-related crime, and are now a registered sex offender. Mallory added that the undocumented populations is one of the most complex to serve, because of its obscurity, much like the youth population. Panelists also shared that many single individuals are homeless, due to a lack of proper mental health treatment.

The panelists were also asked if living in shelters first is easier than finding housing first. Day stated the opposite, that accessing shelters doesn’t mean more likeliness to get housing later; this is largely a myth.

When asked for advice, Haley urged people to educate themselves on this issue. There are so many myths and stereotypes that it is important to know the reality. And once one is aware of the reality, they can begin to properly help.