New initiative connects homeless families to jobs

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Norwich — Imagine a school bus rumbling down the road and halting in front of a homeless shelter to pick up a small child with shoulders hunched and head bowed.

That's a picture a coalition of nonprofit agencies, foundations and the state is hoping to change by announcing an initiative Wednesday to help homeless families quickly get back on their feet.

Called INTERSECT, the local initiative is being coordinated by the Thames Valley Council for Community Action and will be funded for the first year by $35,000 from the Southeastern Connecticut Funders Collaborative and a $35,000 match from the Melville Charitable Trust, officials said during a news conference at the Holiday Inn Norwich. INTERSECT stands for Integrated Network to Employment and Re-Housing of Southeastern Connecticut.

Statewide, the Melville Trust and other partners have committed $500,000 to a pilot program called Secure Jobs CT that is based on a successful model first implemented in Massachusetts to help homeless families secure employment as quickly as possible after a financial disaster. An additional $200,000 in funding is being supplied by the state Department of Housing.

"INTERSECT and the other Secure Jobs Connecticut partnerships will draw new attention within the workforce system to the needs of parents who are eager to secure full-time employment, but who face multiple barriers," Janice Elliott, executive director of the Melville Trust, said in a statement.

Grants came from the Liberty Bank Foundation, the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, Dime Bank Foundation, Dominion Resources and the Edward and Mary Lord Foundation. Each is a member of the 4-year-old Southeastern Connecticut Funders Collaborative that has been leveraging donations to tackle major issues in the region in a coordinated way.

"The real work here is going to be at the front line," Deb Monahan, executive director of TVCCA, said at the news conference.

Partners in the demonstration project, which is expected to extend over two years, include the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board, the Partnership to End Homelessness in Southeastern Connecticut, Mystic Area Shelter and Hospitality, Norwich Human Services, the Southeastern Mental Health Authority, United Way of Southeastern Connecticut, Thames River Community Services and the Connecticut Bureau of Rehabilitation Services.

Lisa Shippee, the TVCCA's director of housing, said she expects about 35 families to be served in the first year of the program.

"We've come together to fund INTERSECT because their plan aligns all the different resources families need to stay housed," said Sue Murphy, executive director of the Liberty Bank Foundation, the lead local funder of the project. "It makes connections between systems that haven't previously worked together and leverages them to enable parents to earn an income that will sustain their families over the long term."

Murphy said the state started a new tack in tackling homelessness when it began an initiative for rapid re-housing, which quickly enabled families with children to find housing outside of homeless shelters. INTERSECT will expand on rapid re-housing by tying the homeless to education, childcare, training and support programs to stabilize families and help them back on their feet with the aid of a an employment navigator, Mike Williams, former case manager for TVCCA's homeless shelter.

"Our goal is to provide them with whatever they need to get and keep a job that will provide them with enough income to sustain them and prevent them from returning to homelessness," Shippee said in a statement.

Officials acknowledged that southeastern Connecticut is one of the hardest-hit areas in the state in terms of employment, but said they will do everything possible to connect homeless families to programs intended to get adults back to work.

"We will see many lives will be improved," said Evonne Klein, commissioner of the state Department of Housing, during the conference.

Connecticut is one of five states nationwide trying to eliminate veteran homelessness by the end of this year and taking aim at wiping out chronic homelessness in 2016. Klein said the state is on track to meet both of its goals.

"We are going to prevent and end homelessness in the state of Connecticut," Murphy said. "We created the problem; we can fix it."

l.howard@theday.com

Twitter: @KingstonLeeHoward

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