Shutdown has put Groton young adult shelter in jeopardy
Groton — Unable to get grant funding during the 35-day government shutdown, the only local homeless shelter specifically for 18- to 24-year-olds is on life support.
Noank Community Support Services Executive Director Regina Moller said her nonprofit launched the nine-bed shelter, known as the Main Street House, with its own money in September 2017.
With research showing that young adults don’t do well in traditional adult shelters, the nonprofit decided to fill the need in southeastern Connecticut.
Seeing good results — none of the 26 young adults served so far has returned to homelessness — Moller and her colleagues applied for and received about $340,000 from the state Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program, or YHDP. The initiative, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, aims to get young adults into permanent housing.
Although the YHDP money became available Nov. 1, the Noank nonprofit couldn’t access it then. Nonprofits that get grants from HUD first have to register for the Line of Credit Control System, which involves visiting their banks and exchanging forms with regional HUD offices.
“None of it is done in a day,” Moller said. “Even the things you can enter online, you’ll get a message back like, ‘We’ll respond within 10 days.’”
Moller said the nonprofit had notarized and submitted the final form to the Hartford HUD office for approval when the government partially shut down Dec. 22.
“And now it’s sitting on a desk at the office in Hartford where no one is working,” she said early last week.
Despite the delay in getting the money, the nonprofit began running the young adult shelter per grant guidelines Nov. 1. That meant hiring a case manager, a resident monitor, two live-in monitors and a youth navigator who gets young adults into the shelter and oversees their cases.
It also means paying for food, toiletries and unexpected expenses like an “extensive” water leak that sprang up earlier this month.
“We assumed we would get back from Christmas break and be able to ‘draw down’ the money for November and December,” Moller said.
Whether HUD staff will get to Noank’s form and whether legislators will work out a deal on border security — the main cause of the shutdown — before Feb. 15 remains to be seen.
Moller said her nonprofit has a loan through the Charter Oak credit union and is asking for donations of nonperishable food, paper goods and cleaning supplies, but “if this funding is held up for a significant length of time, we are at risk of having to close.”
Kayla Laing, Noank’s youth navigator, said the young adult shelter is a beautiful, two-story home in Noank where, though women stay on the first floor and men on the second, the residents share a kitchen, pantry and living room.
“It’s a little more comforting than sleeping next to somebody on a cot,” Laing said.
Laing said more important than comfort is keeping young adults out of traditional adult shelters, where they may be sexually harassed, exposed to drugs or otherwise preyed upon.
Last year, the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness estimated 5,054 youths under 25 were homeless or unstably housed during its annual Youth Outreach & Count event. Seventy-five percent of them were between the ages of 18 and 24.
Laing said the New London Homeless Hospitality Center contacts her each time a young adult is referred there via 211, a 24/7 hotline residents can call for help with housing, food and medical services.
Laing evaluates each case. Sometimes she arranges meetings in which the youth and family members or landlords work out their differences. Sometimes she brings the youth to the Main Street House in Noank. Other times, when no beds are open, she tells young adults staying in New London about the mental health, addiction and other resources available to them.
“At the adult shelter right now, there are four youth,” Laing said Thursday. “We’re always at capacity” in Noank.
Laing said many young adults become homeless when they’re kicked out of their homes because of their sexual orientation. Some have minimum-wage jobs but can’t afford housing. Others struggle with addiction.
Laing connects the young adults to landlords with whom she has developed a relationship. She also teaches them about things like the AXS Center in New London, a Sound Community Services program that helps homeless and at-risk 18- to 25-year-olds find work and address mental health, emotional and substance-abuse issues.
Other Main Street House employees, meanwhile, act as mentors for the young adults, employing a 10 p.m. curfew and teaching them life skills such as cooking and money management.
The goal is to have each young adult on his or her feet within 30 days.
“These clients come in and they’re like, wow, I didn’t know this existed — this is amazing,” Laing said. “This population needs that extra assistance in part because, as research shows, their brains are not fully developed. One night in that adult shelter and they can make connections to the wrong people.”
‘It’s easy to become homeless’
Glenn Peña, 20, already was connected with the AXS Center when he no longer could pay for the motel room where he was staying last March. He learned about Main Street House through his AXS case manager, he said.
Peña, a native of Puerto Rico, was scared as he traveled to the Noank shelter.
“The first thing you think is about is safety,” he said. “Nobody knows how a shelter is going to be."
Instead of a threat, Peña found a group of men and women who helped him improve his English and become more social.
Peña left for his own apartment in July — he still lives there today — and left his job at Wal-Mart for a new one in construction, a trade he had courage to learn because of his stay in Noank.
“It’s easy to become homeless,” Peña said. “You can start arguing with your mother and become homeless. People think of it as only being an old man without a house, but it can come at any age and any time. You have to be prepared — and grateful there are places willing to help.”
The 60-day problem
Moller, the Noank nonprofit’s executive director, said she’s concerned her nonprofit may lose some of its grant funding no matter what.
Many HUD grants require recipients to “draw down” money from the bank within 60 days. The 60-day mark for Noank Community Support Services’ grant was Jan. 1.
In statements and interviews, U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney vowed to help the Groton nonprofit and others get the money they’re owed.
Courtney said he has heard from other nonprofits experiencing similar problems, including United Services in Windham, a behavioral health nonprofit that’s building a new facility with help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Courtney said he’s happy to urge the Hartford HUD office to prioritize Noank’s final grant form “if there’s an urgent need that’s going to result in the interruption of critical services.”
As for the 60-day problem, Courtney said he hoped federal departments would “exercise discretion” and waive penalties on their own, but legislators will get to work if they don’t.
“Common sense screams out for accommodations for situations like this,” he said.