City to target homelessness with 10-year plan

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. announced plans last week to decrease over the next 10 years the percentage of New Haven citizens who chronically find themselves on New Haven streets.

At a news conference on the New Haven Green last Friday, the mayor joined with local and national officials to publicize New Haven’s 10-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness. The program is designed to coordinate the efforts of the New Haven Housing Authority, local homeless agencies and other community organizations to institute policies that they hope will eventually ease the burden on the short-term shelter system by allowing the chronically homeless to obtain and retain housing.

New Haven’s 10-year plan has five basic goals, including increasing the amount of permanent supportive housing in the area and expanding employment opportunities for populations at risk for chronic homelessness.

The City of New Haven Homeless Advisory Commission, which consists of city officials, aldermen and other community members, developed the plan at the beginning of September after three months of discussion, said Alison Cunningham, director of Columbus House and a member of the 10-Year Plan Steering Committee. The plan contains the same key elements as other 10-year plans to end chronic homelessness implemented by Bridgeport and Hartford, Conn., as well as other cities throughout the nation, Cunningham said.

New Haven already devotes considerable resources to alleviating the problem of homelessness in the area, spending over $1.4 million annually to directly serve the city’s homeless population, DeStefano said at the press conference. He said the implementation of the 10-year plan is a continuation of that commitment.

“It’s a fact that no city in Connecticut does as much for the homeless as we do,” he said.

Nearly half of the homeless currently living in New Haven have come from areas outside of the city because of the resources New Haven provides, according to a press release from the Mayor’s Office. New Haven Community Services Administrator Sheila Allen Bell, who attended the conference, said this plan addresses the issue as a problem that affects the entire area, not only downtown New Haven.

“Our plan provides a regional approach to a regional problem,” she said. “New Haven’s plan is realistic, and it is doable.”

Ward 10 Alderman Edward Mattison, a member of the Homeless Advisory Commission, said Bell is committed to ensuring that the committees responsible for implementing the new plan execute the project efficiently. The exciting part of the program, he said, is establishing communication between the Housing Authority and other support agencies for the homeless. By working together, Mattison said these agencies and the city can create a system in which the homeless will be able to pay their rent in federally funded housing with support provided by case management services.

David Tian ’07, co-coordinator of the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project, said the expansion of the supportive housing system is key to ending the battle with recurring homelessness.

New Haven currently limits the length that a person can stay in an emergency shelter to 90 days, Tian said, forcing the chronically homeless onto the streets without a support network to help them find permanent shelter. The most recent homeless count classified over 250 individuals in the New Haven area as chronically homeless, he said, many of whom expressed a need for the services that would be provided in a permanent housing system, including mental health aid.

“Supportive housing has been to shown to be one of the most effective ways to bring people out of homelessness,” Tian said. “It brings services into the housing.”

Now that the plan has been publicly announced, Cunningham said, an avenue has been opened for conversation about the continuing problem of homelessness in the community.

“It’s an opportunity for us to reach beyond the usual boundary of social services,” she said.

Cunningham said major institutions in the community that have funded projects to temporarily alleviate homelessness in the past now have the opportunity to re-examine their role in ending this community issue.

“The crisis of homelessness touches every single one of us in some way or another,” she said.

Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, said the plan sounds like it has the correct pieces, although she has not yet had a chance to read it. The Alliance has provided a model of a 10-year plan as part of national campaign to engage communities in the process of ending homelessness.

Executive Director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness Phillip F. Mangano, who attended the press conference, said the federal government has devoted $4 billion of its budget to combat homelessness, $6.3 million of which New Haven received in Department of Housing and Urban Development payments during this year. Federal funding has been increasing continually over the past four years, he said.

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