OPED: Connecticut poised to end homelessness
A recent report from the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness showed that the number of people experiencing homelessness in Connecticut at a point in time in January decreased by 10 percent from the point in time count last year, and by 35 percent since the count in 2014. Our state has set an ambitious goal of ending all forms of homelessness by 2023, and we are making tremendous progress toward achieving this goal.
At a time when homelessness is increasing nationwide, how has Connecticut made such consistent progress in solving this problem? The answer lies in the innovative solutions we’ve used to build a public/private partnership, develop a stock of housing resources, coordinate our homelessness response across the state, make our systems more efficient, and bring cross system partners together around a shared agenda.
At Operation Hope, we provide homelessness outreach, case management, shelter diversion, and other services for people experiencing homelessness in Fairfield County. We’ve been serving our community for over 30 years — but in that time, Connecticut’s homelessness response system has gotten more effective and efficient.
We work as part of Fairfield County’s Coordinated Access Network (CAN), one of seven in the state. Coordinated Access has helped us to organize our homelessness response system statewide, enabling people to resolve their housing crises quickly and efficiently. Before Coordinated Access was implemented in 2014, people experiencing homelessness had to navigate a complicated web of providers and services in order to get the help they needed. Now, people facing a housing crisis can access community resources through a single “front door” by calling 2-1-1. This change has allowed service providers to collaborate statewide in order to match people to the resources they need.
Here’s an example of what Coordinated Access can do. One night, our team met a person from Norwalk who had no place to go and had been on the streets for a while. While one team member called various shelters to see if there was an open bed, the other was doing a quick assessment to identify other ways to help. Through 2-1-1 they set up a CAN appointment for the next day and helped the man get to Norwalk to a shelter bed for the night. The next day he met with a diversion specialist who helped identify a program that could help him with his substance use issues and a landlord who had a room to rent. Within a few days this person had a better chance of staying housed permanently and knew where he could find help if he needed it.
Homelessness is expensive and traumatic, and investing in diversion helps to save money that the state would otherwise spend on medical or incarceration costs. Often, people facing a housing crisis can be diverted from homelessness through mediating with a family member or existing landlord, or through providing a small amount of money to help someone move into a safer environment. In contrast, a shelter stay can cost approximately $2,000 a month and may not end someone’s homelessness permanently.
While we have used innovative tools to reduce the number of Connecticut residents experiencing homelessness, it is equally important to mention how our work is organized. Connecticut’s Reaching Home campaign to end homelessness is coordinated by over 200 partners from 120 organizations around the state who have come together around shared goals and a common agenda. Reaching Home’s work is built around the collective impact model, which the White House Council on Community Solutions has recognized as an innovative way for communities to resolve social issues. The collective impact model ensures that a diverse group of stakeholders from across the state are included in Connecticut’s homelessness response. Through this model, we have achieved collaboration at all levels of government and between disparate systems and sectors such as criminal justice, healthcare, and youth services, to name a few.
Connecticut’s progress in ending homelessness could not have been accomplished without the help of our state’s leaders and legislators from both parties, who understand that a robust homelessness response system can provide a cost-effective solution for many social problems. The administration of former Gov. Malloy was instrumental in establishing coordinated access in Connecticut, and Gov. Lamont has continued this important work by maintaining funding for Connecticut’s homelessness response system in his first biennial budget. While we can be proud that Connecticut has decreased its homelessness numbers by over one-third in just five years, there is much more work to be done. By providing holistic services and making housing affordable for all of Connecticut’s residents, we can be the first state to end homelessness by making it rare, brief and nonrecurring.
Carla Miklos is executive director of Operation Hope of Fairfield.