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
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
Co-Chair, GNH Regional Alliance to End Homelessness
Executive Director, Beth-El Center
Greater New Haven Regional Alliance to End Homelessness
Christian Community Action
Community Action Agency of New Haven
Connecticut Mental Health Center
Continuum of Care
Cornell Scott Hill Health Center
Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen
Elm City Communities/Housing Authority of New Haven
Liberty Community Services
New Haven Pride Center
United Way of Greater New Haven
Yale New Haven Hospital
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.