Dear Friends and Supporters,
In times of great challenge and uncertainty, we believe the best and most meaningful path forward is through collaboration and communication.
The Partnership for Strong Communities supports two statewide Campaigns - the Reaching Home Campaign, focused on making homelessness rare, brief and one time in Connecticut, and the HOMEConnecticut Campaign, seeking to increase access to affordable housing in the state - that have been working diligently in collaboration with a wide array of partners at various levels of operation in these areas to address the immediate impact and needs, and engage in thoughtful dialogue and planning on the longer term impacts/needs that may come as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Below is a high-level summary to inform you of the work of each Campaign and overall statewide efforts to best prevent and end experiences of homelessness in this time of unprecedented crisis and change.
Reaching Home Campaign
The Campaign has been organizing partners to meet virtually through our five workgroups to discuss the need for special protections and urgent statewide coordination on behalf of those experiencing homelessness in the state. These meeting spaces have been helpful in coordinating conversations with healthcare, frontline service providers, and statewide advocacy/agency partners to discuss protocols/policy changes, to coordinate the most impactful use of funding coming through both the state and federal government, and share resources/information as we are made aware of it.
Two coalition letters were developed by our Coordinating Committee to share with key State and Congressional legislative leaders:
- The first letter, shared on March 16th, urged special protections and statewide coordination for people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 public health emergency, and outlined the major issues and needs expressed by those on the front line of the homeless response system.
- The second letter, shared on March 31st, quantified the resources necessary to address the most pressing issues facing the homeless response system and people experiencing homelessness in our state as a result of COVID-19.
Key highlights include:
- Immediate release of available state resources, including discretionary flexible funding and any available vouchers, Rental Assistance Payments and other housing resources to Connecticut's Coordinated Access Networks (CANs) to move people out of shelter and into permanent housing, hotels, dorms or other safe housing options. Whenever possible, the state (DAS) should contract directly with municipalities, CANs and shelter providers to avoid the fronting of these costs with their extremely limited resources.
- An allocation of $5.42 million to cover safe emergency beds to reduce shelter crowding and isolation beds to reduce infection, including funding as well for staffing with some hazard pay, food and other hard costs.
- The formation of a COVID-19 interagency homeless response to help slow the spread of the virus.
- At least $1.4M in flexible Funding for short-term rental assistance.
- Long-term rental assistance resources and housing support services at ~$11M.
- An estimated $515,000 for frontline service providers to ensure a safe and successful transition to telehealth services including state-wide training, technical assistance, and telehealth equipment.
As you know, the state implemented an effort to "decompress" homeless shelters by moving many people experiencing homelessness into hotel rooms. This work was critical for avoiding rapid transmission of the virus among the sheltered population. While decompression was a crucial step, additional actions must be taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the state's homeless population and reduce unnecessary deaths. If decisive action is not taken, economic pressures could lead to an influx of homelessness into the state's shelter system in the coming months.
Given the pace and evolution of the crisis, we continue to hear about issues on a regular basis from our state and local partners. To give you a sense, some recent additional concerns include:
- The need for a public health protocol outlined and supported by the state that includes the key phases of the identification-isolation-testing-tracing cycle for the homeless response system.
- In Fairfield County for example, the lack of dedicated isolation space and appropriate protocols sent COVID positive individuals back from hospitals to shelters ill equipped to help them keep their distance from others. In much greater numbers, lack of isolation space leaves people who are potentially spreading the virus, but do not need hospitalization, in our shelters and public spaces.
- The lack of any medical staff working with people who are homeless in most areas of the state - particularly the unsheltered population,
- The need for all emergency shelters, supportive housing, day programs, and food insecurity services be clearly defined as "essential" as many other important services have been for purposes of bulk ordering, access to PPE and other supplies,
- The need for FEMA resources to become available quickly to address the added costs that homeless providers are spending upfront for hazardous duty pay, Personal Protective Equipment, cleaning supplies, food and other basic needs in response to COVID 19.
If you have further questions, or would like to learn more about the work going on, please contact our Senior Policy Advisor, Alicia Woodsby at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Efforts have been underway to conduct regular meetings with the Campaign's Advisory Committee, comprised of affordable and fair housing advocates, developers, builders, and planners to discuss and hone in on the short and long term implications of the pandemic as it relates to accessing affordable housing and ensuring low-income renters have access to supports to stay housed during the crisis and more permanently looking beyond the pandemic. This thinking includes conversations around eviction prevention, rental arrearages/assistance and other tenant protections, mortgage deferrals and forbearance and the extension of moratoriums throughout the duration of the public health crisis.
The HOMECT Campaign has also recently shared a letter that addresses asks and anticipated needs with legislative leaders.
Key recommendations from the HOMECT letter include:
- Providing relief to renters to prevent evictions, an estimated $400 million in rental assistance for the next 6 months may be needed to keep approximately 230,000 renters housed.
- Adding at least $25 million to the Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program (E-MAP) to prevent a future wave of foreclosures resulting from significant and rapid growth in newly unemployed households.
If you have further questions, or would like to learn more about the work going on, please contact our Policy Director, Sean Ghio at email@example.com.
With so much happening in the world of policy, we wanted to take a moment to highlight some of the incredible, thoughtful, and creative work underway at the local level by community heroes on the frontlines of ending homelessness.
We highlight two heroes today among the many individuals in communities across the state doing incredible work to save lives:
Phil Costello, an APRN with Cornell Scott - Hill Health Center, has been a critical partner of the Greater New Haven Coordinated Access Network as providers prepare and respond to the recent pandemic. Costello is helping coordinate PPE donations, supporting people experiencing homelessness who are displaying symptoms associated with COVID-19, training agency staff and clients on the seriousness of this disease and protocols on how to keep themselves safe, and providing insights and information daily on how to best respond and support clients in need.
Phil's team is one of the only medical staff teams we're aware of in the state providing outreach and street medicine to unsheltered people experiencing homelessness during this crisis. Just one example of his leadership was when a provider had a staff member test positive and Phil arranged for other staff to be tested so quickly and helped the agency establish an internal protocol, that it brought piece of mind and security to the shelter staff and ability to continue their work. He has made himself available day and night for support. Phil is a fierce advocate for his clients, a voice of calm and guidance to his partners and a true leader in his community.
Yoshi Bird, the Assistant Director at South Park Inn (SPI), has been an essential and integral part of operationalizing the decompression of shelter spaces, coordinating staffing at the hotel, transporting people and supplies, and figuring out how to make sure everyone has food. During this critical time, Yoshi has demonstrated strong leadership, steadfast and focused communication, and strategic thinking, all with a sense of calmness, centeredness that brings ease to everyone around her. Once it became clear that COVID-19 was heading toward us like a meteor, Yoshi immediately began working on a pandemic response for SPI, knowing that this was a time when we would need to respond to the needs of the guests, volunteers, partners and staff safely and effectively.
Yoshi's prior experience working in the homeless system in Massachusetts and responding to fires, tornados and the complexities of working within an enormous shelter system has taught her how to organize front line staff regardless of their employer, build a strong team and assist and support everyone toward a successful outcome. Yoshi has an extraordinary ability to look at a situation and immediately begin to organize and orchestrate a plan and processes for an ease of execution.
It is imperative that in our work we continue to find ways to support these natural leaders and heroes in our communities so that everyone has a safe and healthy place to be in these challenging and scary times. We could not do what we do without people doing this work on the frontlines, leading their communities with strength and innovation.