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Coalition Celebrates Ten Years of Fighting Homelessness

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A standing-room only crowd was on hand on Friday, March 23, for the Coalition on Housing and Homelessness’s Annual Meeting held at Meriden’s Augusta Curtis Cultural Center. Senator Christopher Murphy headlined the program, along with CT Department of Housing Commissioner Evonne Klein. The event focused on how far we’ve come as a state in the last 10 years and what’s ahead. Senator Murphy’s comments related to what is happening on the housing and homelessness front nationally, while Commissioner Klein addressed how the state plans to keep its great momentum going.

Senator Murphy noted that, in the past 10 years, Congressional legislation ultimately tripled the number of units of affordable housing nationwide. More recently, he said that the current administration’s initial budget proposal made cuts to the housing line item that would have had “draconian consequences.” The budget proposal that recently passed includes a $17 billion increase in funding for housing, which represents a five to seven percent increase over previous spending.

The Senator also pointed with pride to the inclusion of $90 billion in the current budget to support the rebuilding of Puerto Rico. “Some of that money will be coming to Connecticut,” he said (to assist evacuees who are currently seeking shelter in the state). “We’ve done our share to house people, and that’s why we’ll be receiving this funding.” The Senator also spoke about a day he spent with a homeless man in New Haven and reiterated his commitment to “acting in a  responsible and caring way for our neighbors.”

Commissioner Evonne Klein pointed out that Connecticut was leading the U.S. “We were the first in the nation to end chronic veteran homelessness and, Middlesex being number one, we are the only state in the nation to match all of our chronically homeless individuals to housing.” With those milestones behind us, Klein said that the Department of Housing would be introducing legislation in the coming year. “We need to tackle the challenges of local zoning and fair housing,” she said. Areas of emphasis are: the Zoning Enabling Act, transit-oriented development, inclusionary zoning, expansion of housing authority jurisdiction, and a requirement for housing cost impact analysis. In conclusion, she noted, “[The Department understands] the importance of having a home that is safe, stable, and affordable. We understand that communities with a diverse range of housing choices are more vibrant—attracting young professionals, families, a workforce, as well as keeping seniors who have called their communities home for decades. We understand what promotes economic growth locally, as well as state-wide.”

In early 2017, Connecticut became the first state to match all chronically homeless people to housing.

Stephen Anderson, one of the Coalition’s outreach speakers, talked about his experience with homelessness. So many people equate loss of shelter with loss of money. In Stephen’s case it was a loss of heart upon learning he was adopted while he was still in school. “I had loving parents and a lot of people in my corner,” he said, “but I did not make use of their help.” In fact, Anderson said he led a “double life,” not letting anyone know he was homeless. He was able to continue attending high school, but in retrospect he says, “Nobody should ever have to go through that at that age.” As his life progressed, Anderson said he had little ability to cope with stressful situations (such as the death of his father), and that he let his past “get the best of him.” This, combined with a “shallow safety net,” repeatedly returned him to homelessness. Nonetheless, he said, “This isn’t the end. I will get through the storm and the sun will shine again.”

Liberty Bank Foundation Executive Director Sue Murphy wrapped up the program noting, “Ten years into our mission, our Coalition is bigger and stronger than ever.” Successes she pointed to in the Middlesex County, Meriden and Wallingford area include:

  • 170 units of supportive housing created
  • 325 households prevented from losing housing
  • Creation of a coordinated access network that helps prioritize needs and efficiently get people to help
  • Revitalization of the Shepherd Home, which will provide 32 units of permanent supportive housing
  • A 49 percent reduction in the number of homeless people in the area since the beginning of 2013

Murphy told audience members that much of the credit for reducing homelessness and promoting affordable housing goes to government. “This would have gone nowhere without the financial investment and leadership by Senator Chris Murphy, our Congressional delegation, and the US Department of Housing.” At the state level, she thanked Governor Malloy for creating the Department of Housing, and Commissioner Klein and state legislators who supported housing priorities in difficult times.

At the end of the program, Murphy unveiled the coalition’s new branding and website — www.GrowStrongCT.org — which carries the story of the need for affordable housing and better systems to address homelessness into the next decade.  “There’s a lot of division in our country these days,” she said, “but one thing we can all unite in believing:  no one should have to live without a home.”