Frigid New England temperatures present the most dire threat to those we serve at DESK. While most of us were stocking up on supplies so we could stay home and avoid the worst of it, those experiencing homelessness in our community were looking for a lifeline.
Last Thursday, Governor Lamont enacted the Severe Cold Weather Protocol.Program Manager Evan Serio and the warming center team at DESK sprang into action to assist the state’s most vulnerable population: unhoused and unsheltered individuals.
During the cold weather crisis this past weekend, DESK’s Guests were able to stay safe, charge up their cell phones, access internet, get something to eat, and receive referrals to much-needed services.
“Oftentimes, it’s a breath of relief and really just a moment to gather themselves,” said Evan Serio, Program Manager for DESK.
Serving those most in need means being there when we’re needed.
Today, the Connecticut General Assembly’s Housing Committee held their first ever public hearing on homelessness! DESK’s Executive Director, Steve Werlin, joined our partners from across the state to offer testimony in-person for H.B. No. 6554, “An Act Appropriating Funds for Certain Homelessness Response Programs,” and DESK’s DRC Manager, Evan Serio, submitted written testimony. Included in this $50 million bill is funding for increased wages for front-line workers, improving our coordinated access networks, and permanent (“annualized”) funding for cold weather programming — like DESK’s overnight warming center this winter.
Take three minutes to watch Steve’s testimony in Hartford (below), and then consider some next steps so YOU can support H.B. No. 6554, too:
Familiarize yourself with the Legislative Agenda for the CT Coalition to End Homelessness, which breaks down all the specific asks in the bill (in two pages!).
Find your legislator and reach out by phone or email: Tell them you support the items in H.B. 6554 because it is an ethical imperative.
Advertise your good work on social media so you can encourage others to do the same, and don’t forget to tag DESK!
DESK has grown a lot in recent years. When I first started working here in 2017, all the work was carried out by one fulltime kitchen staff, one parttime maintenance specialist, an intern, a few hundred volunteers, and a Board of Directors that had shrunk to six people. Today, we have 23 people on payroll, as many as half-a-dozen interns at any given time, nearly two thousand volunteers, and a fourteen-member Board of Directors!
To give you a better sense of who works here and how we’re organized, here’s a chart:
A few items to note about this chart.
First, it’s backwards … at least compared to most hierarchical staff structures. At DESK, we put our Board and Executive Director at the bottom of the structure in order to emphasize (and remind us!) that the role of leadership is to support those doing the work on the frontlines.
Second, we include our “Clients” at our Drop-in Center, our “Guests” at our Dinner program, and “Shoppers” at our Pantry program at the top, as those we serve. But, we also include at the bottom. As members of the broader New Haven community, the people we serve help to inform our leadership, so that strategic decisions include all relevant input.
At DESK, we often say that our staff “wear a lot of hats.” We try to avoid being too strict with everybody’s role. Despite our recent growth, we’re still a small organization, and so we really do rely on people to step out of their comfort zone from time to time. That’s why everyone’s job description includes, among their responsibilities, “other duties as assigned.” (And if you don’t believe me, just ask Val, our Warming Center Assistant Manager, about my skills behind the café last Christmas!)
The other duty everyone’s job description here includes is “volunteer supervision.” DESK began as volunteer, grassroots, community-based organization and — even after more than 35 years — much of the day-to-day work on the frontlines is accomplished by volunteers. We’re fortunate to have almost 2,000 volunteers who come through our doors each year, all coordinated by Ashley Burkell, our Volunteer Coordinator. Ashley’s job is to match the right volunteer to the right duties, serving as the liaison between our program staff and the ready-and-willing community. But then, it’s up to our staff on-the-ground to work with and supervise those volunteers.
Finally, our chart includes our Board of Directors (none of whom are paid), as well as our Program Interns, who are receiving either course credit or paid compensation through their internship program.
It’s been wonderful to watch our staff grow in recent years, in terms of both size and roles. I can’t wait to see how we can continue to grow in the years ahead, all in greater fulfillment of our mission!
Got questions? Leave a comment below!
Steve Werlin has been the Executive Director of Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen since 2017.