Last night, the Connecticut General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee held a hearing as they consider the Governor’s proposed budget for the next two fiscal years. I was grateful to have the opportunity to offer some general comments on the proposed allocations to homelessness services. You can watch my 3-minute oral testimony below. The even shorter version is: It’s simply not enough.
DESK works closely with partners locally through the Greater New Haven Regional Alliance to End Homelessness and across the state through Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness. Through these groups, we signed onto a legislative agenda that focused on four important areas to Rescue the Homeless Response System:
Fund the Frontlines: We want frontline workers to be paid at least a living wage; this means that the wages paid by state contracts need to keep up with inflation and the increased costs of living in our state.
CAN Infrastructure: Over the last ten years, providers in Connecticut have been working very hard to build a system that can get people into shelter and housing (and out of homelessness!) as quickly as possible . . . but it’s crippled by a lack of resources. If we want something to work as intended, we need to be willing to pay for it.
Cold Weather Funding: Seasonal overflow shelters, warming center, increased outreach efforts . . . none of these life-saving emergency-response efforts each winter are paid for. We cobble together services each winter without any assurances each winter. We need the state to commit to funding cold weather services every year.
FlexibleSpending: There’s no straight path or one-size-fits-all strategy to getting out of homelessness. A pot of flexible spending will enable people to avoid eviction, cover a security deposit, or pay for moving costs.
I unpacked all this further in my written testimony, in the hopes that legislators will take these recommendations under consideration in their response to the Governor’s proposed budget.
DESK staff stood alongside members of U-ACT (the Unhoused Activists Community Team) in the City of New Haven’s Aldermanic Chamber earlier this week. On Wednesday night, the Board of Alders Joint Community Development/Human Services Committee held a public hearing at City Hall on the Mayor’s proposal to accept $4.8 million in federal funding through the HOME-ARP program. DESK and U-ACT took the opportunity to make recommendations on how this funding should be spent, with the latter especially reiterating and emphasizing their list of demands.
DESK’s recommendations were developed in coordination with the Greater New Haven Regional Alliance to End Homelessness, and our Executive Director, Steve Werlin, gave oral testimony alongside our partners from Columbus House, Liberty Community Services, and Fellowship Place. (Watch the testimonies below.) In addition, DESK worked with the Alliance’s Advocacy Committee to draft written testimony, copied-and-pasted below.
Testimony regarding the City of New Haven’s Proposed Acceptance and Use of HOME-ARP Funding
Submitted by:Greater New Haven Regional Alliance to End Homelessness
February 17, 2023
Dear Alder Brackeen, Alder Douglass, and the Members of the Board of Alders’ Health and Human Services Committee and Community Development Committee:
The Greater New Haven Regional Alliance to End Homelessness (the “Alliance”) is composed of more than twenty organizations and agencies. (See below for a full list of members.) Direct service agencies include providers of shelter, housing, outreach, day programs, seasonal emergency overnight programs, and a range of support services. Many of these direct service organizations are past and current contractors with the City of New Haven.
Like so many other cities across our country, New Haven is in the midst of a homelessness and housing crisis. In Greater New Haven, we currently have 623 people on the by-name list, that is, people whose homelessness status has been verified (which doesn’t account for the untold number whose homelessness status has not yet been verified); additionally, we have 138 people who have been matched to a housing voucher but who have not yet been housed. In other words, we have a lot of residents who are actively experiencing homelessness and a lot of people who are move-in ready but can’t find a place to live.
Under the proposed $4.8 million in HOME-ARP funding, the City of New Haven intends to spend $4 million on affordable housing development and more than half-a-million on supportive services.
Based on the current state of need, the Alliance would like to offer up four recommendations to refine this proposal.
First, of the $4 million proposed, we recommend that $1 million is reallocated to the Development of Non-Congregate Shelter, a separate allowable expense under HOME-ARP. In all areas of public service, the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us valuable lessons, and homelessness services are no different. In 2020, New Haven, along with our partners across the state, moved quickly to decompress our congregate shelters into hotel rooms. This provided a more appropriate setting for people seeking to move beyond homelessness, giving them private space, more freedom, and the ability to address recovery and mental health needs more fully, while helping to reduce the stigma and fear associated with congregate shelter. Non-congregate shelter, that is, private, individual rooms, enables couples to stay together and allows for individuals to keep their pets, both of which pose barriers to shelter currently. Non-congregate shelter is a recognized best-practice, which, by the way, is precisely why it is highlighted as an allowable expense under HOME-ARP.
But despite this best practice, New Haven currently offers no non-congregate shelter option for most individuals. Moreover, New Haven is in desperate need of more shelter space altogether. With reduced capacity at Columbus House’s Overflow Shelter and the closing of the ESMS’s Grand Ave Shelter, we are down 110 shelter beds this winter compared to the pre-pandemic level. To pick up the slack in New Haven, five organizations—DESK, Upon This Rock Ministries, the 180 Center, and Varick AME Zion Church, as well as Columbus House in Hamden—are offering 140 or so spots in warming centers; they all go over capacity regularly. As most agree, warming centers are a very poor substitute for real shelter. Warming centers do not have showers, they do not have beds, they do not have lockers. They are simply rooms for people to not freeze to death—period. Our emergency response system is overwhelmed and needs more shelter space. The state has already committed $5 million to support the outfitting of non-congregate shelter in New Haven, but that will not be enough. We recommend that $1 million in HOME-ARP funds be used to support the creation of more shelter capacity in New Haven in a manner that reflects best practice.
Second, the Alliance recommends that of the remaining $3 million put toward the Development of Affordable Rental Housing, $1 million be used to rehabilitate and sustain existing units, rather than create new units altogether. The current housing stock is depleted in part because existing units need to be renovated to ensure that they are in compliance with HUD quality standards. Sustaining existing units will also help to ensure that affordable housing units can be brought online and filled quickly so as to alleviate the overwhelming number of people accessing emergency services, like the warming centers, right now.
Third, the Alliance recommends that the remaining $2 million put toward the Development of new Affordable Rental Housing construction be specifically stipulated for the development of deeply affordable single-room occupancy, or SRO, units, located in neighborhoods that already have services and public amenities available. A conservative estimate puts the cost of a newly-constructed 800-sq-ft., one-bedroom unit at about $218,000 per unit, meaning that $2 million would only create about nine units. The creation of SRO’s, on the other hand, gets you more bang for your buck—with an estimated per unit cost of $75,000, $2 million would develop about 27 units.
In addition, SRO’s offer an important alternative option for people exiting homelessness, many of whom, having experienced long-term, chronic homelessness, might struggle to maintain a full apartment. Direct service providers are all too familiar with the experience of helping an individual to get housed, only to find them back out on the street within a year; this occurs in part because of the difficulties posed by independent living. Chronic homelessness is a traumatic experience. Dedicated SRO’s in a communal complex offer an important alternative to scattered-site, one- or two-bedroom apartments, especially when there are support services immediately available onsite.
Fourth, and finally, the Alliance recommends that, to the extent that HOME-ARP funding allows, the $500,000 proposed in supportive services include flexible funds that would enable service providers to offer immediate assistance to get and keep people housed. Such uses would include prevention funds to cover back-rent, immediate short-term funding to cover move-in costs, like security deposit and first-month’s rent, and moving and furnishing costs. When it comes to exiting homelessness, there is no one path and there’s rarely a straight line, especially when the process is buttressed with such complex funding streams. Providers need the flexibility in their support services provision to ensure that they can offer the right kind of help at the right time. We recommend that this flexibility is explicitly stipulated in the allowable uses of HOME-ARP Supportive Services funding when the City RFP’s this out to nonprofit contractors.
The following two tables below contrast the City’s proposed use of the HOME-ARP funds (Table 1) with the Alliance’s proposed used of the funds (Table 2).
Table 1: City’s Proposed Funding Use
Development of Non-congregate Shelter
Development of Affordable Rental Housing (~18 one-bedroom apartments)
Administration & Planning
Table 2: Alliance’s Proposed Funding Use
Supportive Services, with “flex funding” included among allowable expenses
Development of Non-congregate Shelter
Development of Affordable Rental Housing
Rehab of Existing Units
Creation of ~27 new SRO’s
Administration & Planning
Thank you for considering our recommendations.
Margaret Middleton, Co-Chair GNH Regional Alliance to End Homelessness
CEO, Columbus House
Co-Chair, GNH Regional Alliance to End Homelessness Executive Director, Beth-El Center
Greater New Haven Regional Alliance to End Homelessness Beth-El Center BHcare Christian Community Action Columbus House Community Action Agency of New Haven Connecticut Mental Health Center Continuum of Care Cornell Scott Hill Health Center The Connection Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen Elm City Communities/Housing Authority of New Haven Fellowship Place Liberty Community Services New Haven Pride Center New Reach Spooner House TEAM, Inc. United Way of Greater New Haven Yale New Haven Hospital Youth Continuum
UPDATE (Thursday, March 9, 2023)
They accepted our recommendations! On Tuesday night, the Board of Alders passed a resolution to move forward with the HOME-ARP funding, with an amendment that included a reallocation of $1 million in funding to non-congregate shelter, as we suggested. In addition, the Board of Alders stipulated that the grant be overseen by an advisory committee that includes a member of the Greater New Haven Regional Alliance to End Homelessness and the Unhoused Activists Community Team. Here’s the coverage in the New Haven Independent and the New Haven Register, the latter of which included the following statement made by DESK’s Executive Director on the behalf of the Alliance:
The Greater New Haven Regional Alliance to End Homelessness is thrilled to see the City taking seriously the need for emergency services for unhoused individuals in the form of non-congregate shelter. Although $1 million will not alone cover the needed costs, this is an important demonstration of the City’s role and responsibility, and we’re confident that other public and private funders will see the value of addressing this crisis through collaborative efforts. We’re equally enthused that the City has chosen to appoint an advisory committee that includes a provider affiliated with the Alliance and a person with lived experience through U-ACT. Doing so is not only a logical best-practice in the deployment of public funding; it is an acknowledgement of the wealth of expertise that exists in our community.
As part of their Headway series, The New York Times recently posted an interactive page of interviews with thirty individuals from all over the U.S. who have experienced or are currently experiencing homelessness. It’s powerful, illuminating, and, most importantly, humanizing. You don’t need to read it all at once, and you can bounce around and read different responses to the questions. Take some time to open both your heart and mind up to their responses, their stories, and their lives. Read on here.
This past weekend, DESK hosted its annual Strategic Planning Retreat. Board members, staff, volunteers, and other stakeholders came together to revisit our mission, examine our impact, and determine a path forward for future services and programming.
This year, our leadership focused on the next phase of our dinner program, as we struggle to respond to an increase in food insecurity and hunger in New Haven. Do we go back to big, indoor, community dinners, like we had pre-pandemic? Do we stick with the popular grab-and-go model we adopted in 2020? Do we merge our Drop-in Center program with the dinner program? Do we explore new avenues and new partnerships for meeting the need?
These are big questions! And they certainly can’t be answered in just a six-hour retreat on a weekend. Instead, the group used this time to brainstorm possibilities and begin mapping the strategy to fill in our knowledge-gaps over the next six to eight months. With the proper resources and information, our Board will have the tools to make an informed decision on how best to serve our community.
So in case you were wondering, this is what responsible governance looks like!
Huge shout out to Southern Connecticut State University and the Community Alliance for Research and Engagement for offering up their beautiful new space in the Health and Human Services Building — thank you!
The New Haven Register reported yesterday on the recent spike in opioid overdose deaths in New Haven:
Officials earlier this week reported that 12 people had fatally overdosed since Jan. 25 — a threefold increase in the number of weekly overdose deaths, which is typically is two. A mixture of crack cocaine and fentanyl was suspected to be the cause of the overdoses, officials said.
According to New Haven Health Director Maritza Bond, the lethal combination of the two drugs has started circulating more frequently throughout the community, resulting in the increase of fatal overdoses over the same two-week period last year. Bond stressed that city health officials remained committed to responding to the crisis with existing services while identifying new ways to expand their outreach to those in need. [Read on here.]
DESK has been providing overdose prevention and harm reduction services since 2018, when we began training staff to administer naloxone to reverse overdoses and installed syringe disposal boxes in our bathrooms, both as part of a partnership with New Haven County Outreach and CT Harm Reduction Alliance. The ongoing trainings, which we’ve also brought to local businesses, have enabled our staff to save nearly a dozen lives in the past few years, both on- and off-site.
Make no mistake, New Haven: We are in the midst of an opioid epidemic and public health crisis that can only be addressed through these sorts of compassionate and progressive approaches that treat people who use drugs as just that: people. We are proud to partner with the New Haven Health Department, the Community Health Care Van, Cornell Scott Hill Health Center, SWAN, and others to do the critical work on the ground; we’re grateful to have such an incredible community of caring providers in our city!