When Connecticut was certified by the federal government in August 2015 as the first state in the nation to eliminate homelessness among veterans, another group in the homeless population seemed to be forgotten: young women, usually under the age of 24, and their children.
Three months ago, New Reach, a New Haven-based nonprofit dedicated to supportive housing and stabilization, received $100,000 from The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven and the state Department of Housing, and shortly after launched a program to support just this demographic. Dubbed “Families Navigators,” the new program grew out of the high demand for supportive housing that the Elm City had seen since last winter.
According to New Reach’s statistics, over 200 families remained on the waitlist to be considered for supportive housing in January, and the waiting period extended to as long as four months. As of last month, only 28 families remain on the waitlist.
“We found that the demand for housing was so high in New Haven that over 200 families were on the waitlist, not able to access the shelters,” said Kara Capone, chief operating officer of New Reach. “We created this Families Navigator position that works specifically to either get people into shelter more rapidly or divert them to other resources to stay away from homelessness.”
The Families Navigators program operates within the framework of the Connecticut Coordinated Access Network, a federally mandated system that connects housing and shelter service providers across the state under one umbrella organization. Families and individuals who are facing the possibility of becoming homeless can access the closest housing sources in their geographic region by dialing a central phone line.
According to Capone, after contacting the CCAN, families and individuals will schedule appointments to assess their level of need. Those facing immediate physical harm, such as victims of domestic abuse, will be directly led to a secure housing location, while others are placed onto a waitlist for openings in supportive housing and shelters.
Capone said that Families Navigator reaches out to people on the waitlist and directs them to the most appropriate resource. These resources include legal services, education and access to emergency funding for equipment necessary for employment.
“Sometimes we refer them to legal services. For example, when [families and individuals] receive eviction notices, they don’t necessarily have to leave their housing,” Capone said.
In other situations, people are directed to family and friends who are able to provide more stable housing, especially when children are involved, she added.
The Families Navigator program is jointly funded by CFGNH and the state DOH, with the former contributing 60 percent of funds and the latter 40 percent.
“Having the staffing to manage this long waitlist and get people critical assistance in a timely fashion, we understood it to be critical. So we were happy to [contribute] to it,” said Sarah Fabish, grantmaking and scholarships vice president for CFGNH. “And it’s great that there was funding from the state as well, because we couldn’t get to the full amount [New Reach] was looking for.”
Fabish said a lot effort has been put forth for eliminating homelessness among veterans and adults, but not as much attention has been given to women with young children. She added that funding Families Navigator was the organization’s way of directing attention to this population.