Courtesy of Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness

In 2015, Connecticut became the first state in the country to eradicate chronic veteran homelessness. Now, the Constitution State, a nationwide leader in the fight to end homelessness, is looking to mitigate chronic homelessness across all populations and eradicate youth and family homelessness by 2020.

The number of people experiencing homelessness in the state is at its lowest since 2007, according to data published in January by the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, a statewide organization that encompasses over 100 housing and hunger-related groups. There has also been a 15 percent decrease in chronic homelessness since 2017, according to the report. Still, 188 individuals, including 52 people in the Greater New Haven region, remain chronically homeless — living with a disability in unsafe or short-term housing for 12 months or four successive three-month-long month period.

“[Data is] how we understand what’s working, what’s not working as well, how to troubleshoot, both as a state but also within individual organizations in Connecticut working on ending homelessness,” said Mary Ann Haley, deputy director and interim CEO of the Coalition. “We’re really making significant progress to being able to say that we have ended chronic homelessness. But there is still a ways to go, and there are a lot of challenges.”

Haley said that in addition to collecting data on homelessness, the Coalition has collaborated with numerous community partners and has fundraised for housing resources. Specifically, the organization has focused on advocating for sustainable housing solutions and reducing the amount of time individuals spend in emergency shelters. Currently, 85 percent of chronically homeless individuals in the state have been matched to housing, according to the January report. In New Haven, the housing match percentage is 83 percent.

Beyond mitigating chronic homelessness in Connecticut, the Coalition is hoping to eliminate family and youth homelessness by the end of 2020. To achieve this goal, the organization launched a 77-day “Family Challenge” to house as many families as possible before Monday. According to the “Family Challenge Progress Report,” 213 of 360 families have found housing thus far since Sept. 24. These families include 422 children and some individuals who are pregnant or living with a disability. In the Greater New Haven region, 30 out of 68 families had been housed as of Dec. 3.

“It’s pretty exciting to be able to [find housing for that number of families] in a short amount of time,” Haley said. “One of the challenges will be to continue to sustain that and really make it so that whenever a family faces homelessness, we have a place for them to go that is safe and that we can help them get into a housing solution as quickly as possible.”

To make headway on family and youth housing security, the Coalition has also worked to remove barriers to housing access and to promote shelter diversion, which involves finding alternative housing and support for families before they need to enter shelters. According to Haley, the organization has placed families in a variety of community programs besides family shelters, including those run by housing providers and government agencies. Recently, the Coalition connected housing-insecure families to child care resources, the lack of which is a known barrier to housing.

To raise awareness about these initiatives and resources, the organization has partnered closely with schools, agencies and local nonprofits. One such program is the Be Homeful project, which the Coalition established during the 2015 holiday season. Every winter, the Coalition collects donations for bears and books — gifts that are underwritten by sponsors and then donated to 50 state shelters — which generates financial resources for an emergency fund. According to Madeline Ravich SOM ’09, development advisor at the Coalition and one of the founders of the project, the emergency fund has helped more than 750 housing-insecure children since its inception.

“I think building a system with scarce resources is always a challenge. It seems like there’s never enough resources to do what you want to do,” said Ravich. “But when we work collaboratively as communities, we can have progress … The biggest challenge in a world where there is not enough money to go around is to make sure that we are as smart as possible with what we have.”

The Coalition has also worked in partnership with Yale organizations, including Yale New Haven Hospital and Y2Y New Haven, a working undergraduate project to create a student-run homeless shelter. Haley said that Yale New Haven and the Coalition have had ongoing conversations about mitigating housing insecurity and carrying out effective social work.

According to Nishanth Krishnan ’21, community chair for the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project, YHHAP is also hoping to make more “meaningful” and “sustained” partnerships with non-Yale organizations. Krishnan specifically noted that New Haven Cares, a project YHAAP is working on, would dispatch volunteers to talk to housing-insecure individuals about resources available at Columbus House, a homeless shelter in Elm City.

Krishnan also said that some of YHAAP’s 12 ongoing projects already have working relationships with New Haven-based organizations, including Volunteer Income Tax Assistance — a tax preparation service for low-income community members — which is based in the New Haven Works office, a job training nonprofit based in New Haven.

“Connecticut has been a leader in the country around ending homelessness,” Haley said. “Given how we really have worked so hard to bring about coordinated ways for people to get places for housing, prioritizing the most vulnerable first … We want to make sure that our services are serving the most vulnerable and as many people as we can.”

The Coalition aims to release new data on chronic and youth homelessness in January 2019.

Ruiyan Wang | ruiyan.wang@yale.edu