February 8 was the day to celebrate all the housing triumphs in Meriden. Several unsung heroes of housing talked about the many advances made in the city towards returning youth, individuals and families to safe, affordable housing.
The city’s homeless shelter, Shelter Now, is embarking on renovations to better accommodate its guests and more conveniently assist with housing searches. In his remarks, Shelter Now Executive Director David Dudley said he used the term guests intentionally. He spoke about the need to reframe the status of those using the shelter as guests rather than residents. The point is that Shelter Now is a safe place to understand the traumas that brought guests there and to identify steps needed to resume independent living. Many times, it’s not just trauma that has brought people to shelter — it could be a simple lack of knowledge — how to handle money, how to care for children, how to remain employed. Bottom line, Shelter Now is a short-term place for guests to regain power over their lives, not a long-term place of surrender and hopelessness.
Clayton Burkhart, from the Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, discussed what led to his homelessness … the trauma of loss of family members, the increasing inability to remain employed due to depression, and increasing alcohol use. He proudly announced that he overcame these difficulties and has been sober for the last 13 years and stably housed for the past two years, thanks to the assistance he received.
Caroline Perez, Columbus House, addressed the phenomenon of growing youth homelessness. She noted that many of the reasons youth become homeless are different from their adult peers, and the fact that housing homeless youth requires a different approach. For many the inability to trust, due to family or societal rejection, or being abused by adults, means that housing choices and counseling services must be specially tailored. She announced the awarding of a two-year grant for the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Project from the state and HUD. Funding will be used to expand outreach to schools, strengthen collaboration with school counselors responsible to aiding homeless youth, and to create a shared housing model for youth.
Ann Faust, the Executive Director from the Coalition on Housing and Homelessness summed up the progress. “Meriden has done much to be proud of — a shelter that’s working better than ever to end episodes of homelessness, new resources to address youth homelessness, and an increase in high quality rentals that are affordable,” she said. Ann noted that recent experience shows that 75 percent of homeless people can be rehoused within 30 days with minimal intervention. She also announced that Meriden is leading the way in creating affordable housing for working families, pointing to seven new buildings already developed or underway.
Left to right are: David Dudley, Shelter Now; Clayton Burkhart and Ann Faust, Coalition on Housing and Homelessness; and Caroline Perez, Columbus House.