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Advocates brace for increase in homelessness, and that includes veterans

Housing advocates say while they are seeing a lull in those needing shelter right now because of Gov. Ned Lamont's moratorium on new eviction proceedings, they know once the moratorium expires, they likely will see a surge of people needing a place to live, including veterans.

Lamont extended the eviction moratorium until the end of the year, and while that keeps people in their homes in the short term, the worry is that when the ban eventually expires, they still won't have the money to pay their rent.

"We're not seeing as many cases right now because it's falsely depressed because of the moratorium, which is fine in the short term, but what happens when the moratorium isn't extended again?" said Liam Brennan, executive director of the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center, which helps mentally ill and homeless veterans overcome barriers to housing, health care and income.

Last year, when the economy was good, the center saw an increase in housing cases, which make up about 30% of its work in an average year. The economic downtown that has resulted from the pandemic is likely going to lead to another uptick in cases. The moratorium is just delaying that, Brennan said.

Brennan said he'd like to see the moratorium extended through the winter and additional economic assistance for those facing eviction, given that the job market is still weak. The group Home Connecticut estimates that between $400 million and $1 billion is needed to stave off the expected eviction crisis in the state.

Mirca Reyes, veteran transitional housing case manager at the New London Homeless Hospitality Center, said she was really busy when the pandemic first hit in mid-March, but more recently has not had many cases. Reyes said she is able to connect veterans with resources to help pay their rent and said whenever possible the goal is to help them stay in their current living situation. Especially given how easily COVID-19 is transmitted, Reyes said enabling veterans to live on their own is safer right now than placing them in a shelter or communal housing.

"It's most certainly a concern," Reyes said of the eventual end to the moratorium. "When the courts open and the floodgates open, then everybody is going to be homeless simultaneously. Our hope is if you’re anticipating that you’re going to be evicted, the time to act is now."

She said there are many resources available to veterans on the brink of homelessness, but it's best to act before they face eviction.

Connecticut already has a good system in place to address veteran homelessness, which gives Cathy Zall, executive director of the homeless hospitality center, confidence the state will be able manage any impending crisis. Several years ago, the state reached "functional zero" when it comes to veteran homelessness, meaning any newly identified homeless veteran is able to be connected to services.

But if a surge of Connecticut residents face eviction all at the same time, finding housing for them could be very complicated given social distancing requirements and limited capacity at shelters due to the pandemic. Housing groups already are having difficulty finding available rental units for their clients, said David Gonzalez Rice, senior program manager at the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness. And this is coming at a time when shelters usually see an uptick in people seeking them out because of colder weather.

"The whole system is already under some strain due to reduced capacity in the shelters and a greater difficulty finding available units," he said. "We’ve watched the expiration for the moratorium get extended more than once. Each time, we’ve collectively braced — and then collectively breathed a sigh of relief."

j.bergman@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version corrects David Gonzalez Rice's job title.

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