Fund to aid homeless: 'This program works'

If you want to know if the New London County Fund to End Homelessness is working, then all you have to do is look at Calvin Yancy.

Three weeks ago, Yancy entered the New London Homeless Hospitality Center seeking shelter. After one week, he got a job at McDonald's. The following week he received his first paycheck, and on Thursday, he was about to move into a new apartment in Groton.

Yancy spoke briefly Thursday at United Way of Southeastern Connecticut's legislative briefing, which gave an overview on how the fund is helping the community and serving as a model for others across the state during its nearly two years of operation.

"I was homeless, and now I'm not," Yancy said. "I'm here to tell you this program works, but you got to put the footwork in. I'm happy and I'm blessed."

Three years ago, Yancy was homeless after he was laid off after working 15 years at Electric Boat. He lost his wife, Helen, the year before to cancer.

The fund, which helps with rapid rehousing and shelter diversion, wasn't available then, and Yancy spent six months in a shelter.

"I did hit a brick wall, but now things are better," he said.

The New London County Fund to End Homelessness provides funding for rapid rehousing and shelter diversion services for homeless families and individuals throughout the county. It has been funded with a $250,000 state grant. In addition, the fund also received $250,000 from the Connecticut Department of Housing in 2013.

United Way officials thanked state Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, for help in getting funding.

Since the fund started, a total of 140 families, including 286 children, have been served. More specifically, 105 families, including 221 children, were diverted from shelter and 35 families, including 65 children, were rapidly rehoused from shelter.

None of the families that were diverted from a shelter has since entered a shelter, and only one family out of the 35 families that were rehoused re-entered a shelter, the fund's statistics show.

The fund will continue through fiscal year 2015, thanks to a recent state grant reward.

Cathy Zall, executive director of the New London Homeless Hospitality Center, spoke about the fund at Thursday's briefing. She said there are many types of homelessness.

"In this economy, with people earning low wages, a medical emergency or getting laid off can suddenly throw them into homelessness," said Zall. "Rapid rehousing gets them back into housing quickly."

Lisa Shippee, director of Prevention and Intervention at Thames Valley Council for Community Action, said the fund isn't simply about writing a check. She said the program helps those in need by addressing the issues they are facing head-on.

"It's about ending a crisis for many," said Shippee.

The United Way acts as fiduciary for the fund, managing and disbursing the dollars to the four provider agencies: Mystic Area Shelter and Hospitality (MASH), the New London Homeless Hospitality Center, TVCCA and Norwich Human Services. They, in turn, work collaboratively to address housing needs.

The agencies work together to determine which provider is best equipped to offer services. An assessment is performed to determine the best available solution, including whether to use the resources of this fund for a family or individual.

The provider applies to the fund on behalf of their client, using money from the fund to pay the security deposit, first month's rent or other necessary expenses. The agencies also help with admissions to an emergency shelter.

Denise Collins, MASH executive director, noted it is especially critical to rehouse families with children because studies show that the more time a child spends in a shelter the more likely he or she will spend time in a shelter as an adult.

This year, the fund, along with other initiatives, helped rehouse 99 individuals, and according to the fund's statistics, more than 80 percent did not return for shelter.

Also on Wednesday, the United Way announced that it received a grant of $33,500 from the Southeastern Connecticut Funders Collaborative, a partnership of eight businesses and philanthropic organizations.

Sue Murphy, executive director of the Liberty Bank Foundation, spoke on behalf of the collaborative. She said the group supported the fund's effort to end homelessness because it simply makes sense. She said it's a fact that it costs less in the long range to put people into permanent housing than it does to support them in the shelter system, which doesn't do anything to solve the problem of homelessness.

"Philanthropy is not just about doing good, but about making good investments," said Murphy. "The New London County Fund to End Homelessness is a good investment."

i.larraneta@theday.com

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