On Thursday, January 12, Governor Malloy announced a major milestone in the fight to end homelessness: everyone in our state who has been identified as chronically homeless—the folks who have been homeless the longest and have disabling conditions—has been housed or matched with a housing resource. That means that Connecticut is leading the nation in ending chronic homelessness! Service providers all over the state are celebrating this success—they have been working toward this goal all year, as part of the national Zero 2016 campaign.
Liberty has played a role in making this victory possible. For example, for the past nine years, we have provided financial support and hands-on leadership to the Middlesex County Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, particularly in the areas of communications and advocacy. With the creation in late 2014 of the regional Coordinated Access Network (CAN), which includes Meriden and Wallingford, we encouraged expansion of the Coalition to include the entire region, and leveraged our connections to bring representation from the new communities to the Coalition. The Middlesex/Meriden/Wallingford CAN was one of the first in the state to complete the Zero 2016 challenge. (I remember the day I got the phone call from Ann Faust, telling me, “I just came from the CAN meeting. We’re at zero!” I got chills!)
Liberty’s investments in fighting homelessness have been deep, broad, and consistent over the foundation’s 20-year history. Besides MCCHH, we have supported regional coalitions in the Windham area, New London County, New Britain, and greater Waterbury with grants for rapid rehousing, homelessness prevention, and staff to keep coalitions coordinated and focused. We were among the first funders the Melville Charitable Trust contacted when they began the effort to pilot the Secure Jobs program in Connecticut, and we spearhead the funders’ collaborative that is supporting the pilot in New London County. The foundation’s Good Neighbor Fund has consistently funded emergency shelter for 20 years, and is now seeing those grant requests shift to new solutions like shelter diversion, rapid rehousing, and permanent supportive housing. And let’s not forget the Liberty Bank’s Giving Circle program, which has offered small but unrestricted grants to emergency, transitional, and domestic violence shelters all over our service area every year since 1994.
This ongoing commitment to end homelessness was undoubtedly the impetus for the invitation we received several years ago to participate on the steering committee of Reaching Home, the statewide campaign to end homelessess, which includes numerous leaders from the public and nonprofit sectors. Liberty is one of only two private funders in this group (the other being our friends at the mighty Melville Charitable Trust, a national leader in the fight to end homelessness.)
The achievement of the Zero 2016 goal doesn’t mean that homelessness has been conquered—or even that chronic homelessness is ended. It does mean that hundreds of people who have been homeless for years and struggling with disabling conditions are now in housing, with the services they need to address their problems and stabilize their lives. Further, it means that there is now a statewide system in place for people who become chronically homeless in the future— a system that is readily accessible, and that has the resources necessary to resolve their housing crises, instead of just putting the bandaid of emergency shelter on them.
The work isn’t done. The next challenge has already been named: to eliminate homelessness for families and youth by the end of 2020. It’s going to be even tougher, requiring more complex solutions that involve not just housing, but employment, child care, transportation, and other supports. More importantly, it will involve changes to weave systems together in a seamless continuum, rather than a series of silos that all must be approached separately by families without the resources or knowledge to successfully navigate the maze. The Reaching Home campaign is already embarking on this journey, with Liberty as a committed member of the team.
There will be plenty of struggles ahead. The divisive political climate, funding shortfalls, leadership turnover in the nonprofit community, and the growing number of households at the bottom of the income ladder are all obstacles that will have to be overcome.
But for now, let’s take this moment to celebrate and savor the taste of victory—and think about all those people who are home at last.