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New Alliance Foundation awards DESK William W. Bouton III Grant

New Alliance Foundation awards DESK William W. Bouton III Grant

We are excited to share New Alliance Foundation’s press release in support of DESK, which went out today:


For Immediate Release

Contact: Luis Olmo-Rivera                           Maryann Ott
Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen, Inc.        New Alliance Foundation
(475) 238-6170                                            (203) 859-6555
lolmorivera@deskct.org                               mott@newalliancefoundation.org

 

New Alliance Foundation Awards Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen the William W. Bouton III Grant.

New Haven, Conn., February 24, 2023 – In honor of the life and legacy of New Alliance Foundation board member William W. Bouton III, the New Alliance Foundation is pleased to announce that Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen (DESK) is the recipient of the $10,000 grant for demonstrating creativity and “out of the box” thinking in pursuit of its mission.

In 2019, DESK decided to do something bold and new: they decided to open New Haven’s first Downtown Drop-in & Resource Center for people experiencing homelessness. However, this decision was not made in a vacuum. To determine the needs of the people DESK serves, they went directly to the people and asked. Through a series of interviews, focus groups, and a half-day workshop, they uncovered the barriers that hold clients from moving beyond homelessness. DESK created such a space, opening the doors to New Haven’s first Downtown Drop-In & Resource Center in April 2021.

There are more than 600 people experiencing homelessness in New Haven on any given night, and most do not have a shelter bed. The Drop-In & Resource Center, or DRC, was designed to link those who are unhoused to a network of services that can move them beyond homelessness by providing both basic needs, as well as next-level support services—like shelter, housing, employment, income assistance, mental health, substance use treatment, and medical care.

The DRC served over 900 people in its first year and continues to host more than 40 people daily. In the darkest days of the pandemic, DESK stayed true to its mission and created a new and innovative program that addresses the unique needs of people experiencing homelessness and meaningfully impacts the lives of those in need.

About Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen:

DESK is a New Haven-based, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that serves people experiencing homelessness or living in poverty by providing food assistance and services that promote health, community, and equity.  Each year, DESK serves more than 4,000 people through an evening meals program, a weekly food pantry, the Downtown Drop-in & Resource Center for people experiencing homelessness, and an overnight warming center.  More information can be found at www.deskct.org

 

About The New Alliance Foundation:

As an independent charitable foundation, the mission of NewAlliance Foundation is to support organizations that advance literacy, build communities, and dismantle systems that perpetuate poverty and racism. A segment of our grant-making is targeted toward programs which empower people through the development of literacy skills. More information can be found at www.newalliancefoundation.org

 

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Offering Recommendations & Demanding Action

Offering Recommendations & Demanding Action

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.

For recent news coverage of this hearing, check out the articles in the New Haven Register, New Haven Independent, and Yale Daily News

 

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

Supportive Services $502,875
Development of Non-congregate Shelter $0
Development of Affordable Rental Housing
  (~18 one-bedroom apartments)
$4,000,000
Administration & Planning $350,000
TOTAL $4,852,875

Table 2: Alliance’s Proposed Funding Use

Supportive Services, with “flex funding” included among allowable expenses $502,875
Development of Non-congregate Shelter $1,000,000
Development of Affordable Rental Housing $3,000,000
     Rehab of Existing Units $1,000,000    
     Creation of ~27 new SRO’s $2,000,000    
Administration & Planning $350,000
TOTAL $4,852,875

 

Thank you for considering our recommendations.

 

Margaret Middleton, Co-Chair
GNH Regional Alliance to End Homelessness
CEO, Columbus House

 

Jennifer Paradis
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.
NYT Interactive: What’s Homelessness Look Like?

NYT Interactive: What’s Homelessness Look Like?

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.

Severe Cold Temperatures: DESK Steps up

Severe Cold Temperatures: DESK Steps up

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.

Watch the full story here on Fox 61 News and learn about how DESK is working to help people move beyond homelessness.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro Announces $1.4 million in Funding for DESK!

Rep. Rosa DeLauro Announces $1.4 million in Funding for DESK!

Yesterday was a special day for DESK as one of our strongest advocates stopped by our Drop-in & Resource Center for a very special occasion. In the final days of 2022, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro secured over $1.4 million for renovations to DESK’s Drop-in & Resource Center.

This announcement marks a huge milestone for DESK, Cornell Scott – Hill Health Center, and the people we serve. The renovations to 266 State Street include a medical clinic staffed by Hill Health’s Homeless Healthcare Department, providing low barrier access to critical medical services for unhoused individuals, as well as a new commercial kitchen to prepare the fresh and nutritious meals that feed more than 150 people nightly. 

DESK’s Executive Director, Steve Werlin, and Congresswoman DeLauro described the finished facility as “a front door” for key services needed by people experiencing homelessness in our community.

“We’re going to continue to do what we’ve always done: provide basic needs,” said Werlin. “We’re [also] going to have next-level and specialized services offered on site … We will encourage and welcome and affirm all individuals, regardless of whatever hardships they’re bringing into the space when they come.” 

Watch the full press conference here, and learn more about how two community institutions are working together to help people move beyond homelessness. WATCH NOW!

You can also find media coverage of this announcement through the New Haven Independent, New Haven Register, and Yale Daily News.

NHR & NHI on U-ACT & Tent City

NHR & NHI on U-ACT & Tent City

Unhoused people were in the local news this week in two separates articles.

Yesterday, Mark Zaretsky wrote in the New Haven Register about U-ACT (the Unhoused Activists Community Team).  U-ACT is an advocacy group composed primarily of people with lived experience.  The group meets in DESK’s Drop-in Center every Wednesday at 11:00 am, in meetings facilitated by Billy Bromage of the Yale/CMHC Program on Recovery & Community Health (PRCH), along with DESK’s own Program Manager, Evan Serio, who is doing their MSW internship with PRCH.  Read the full article to learn about the experiences of Tyrell Jackson and Keith Petrulis, U-ACT’s advocacy demands to the City, and the work they’re doing behind-the-scenes.

Today, Nora Grace-Flood wrote in the New Haven Independent about “Tent City,” an encampment along the West River that has grown in recent years to about 30 people.  The piece focuses on the experiences of Nestor, who immigrated from Columbia, as well as some of the community organizers and volunteers who have been helping people here, and the City’s response to this encampment specifically and the homelessness crisis in New Haven more generally.  Read the full article to get a sense of the struggles faced by the residents of this encampment.

Got some thoughts on either of these pieces?  Share your comments below!