98 Homeless People Win “Golden Tickets”

Riding on a city bus, Cynthia Keller got a phone call. She started weeping. After four years of homelessness, she learned she would finally have a place of her own.

The phone call announcing a “golden ticket”—or housing voucher—came thanks to a massive coordinated push by a network of city homelessness agencies.

Keller and 97 other homeless people have received golden tickets of their own, as part of the city’s “100-day challenge” to house 75 percent of the city’s chronically homeless. Of those 98, 26 have already been housed.

As the clock winds down to the July 30 challenge deadline, homelessness agencies are pushing to meet the goal of 107 people housed. With the help of staff at the Columbus House, and with her voucher in hand, Keller (pictured above) is looking at apartments and aims to move in as soon as possible.

If organizers meet their 100-day goal, a new challenge will loom—how to make permanent the new systems they’ve developed. Since April, the city’s homelessness-services providers have shared resources, staff, and information in an unprecedented fashion, shortening the process of housing people from years to weeks. They’ll have to figure out how to keep that momentum going once they pass the 100-day finish line.

Keller said she has been trying to secure housing assistance for years and has met only delays and denials. So when she filled out one more form a few weeks ago, she didn’t expect anything to come of it. And then she got the phone call.

Fear & Longing

Keller, who’s 46, grew up in Trumbull. She became homeless four years ago after getting hooked on pills, then heroin.

It’s miserable to be without a home, said Keller.

“The feeling of not being wanted—it’s the worst feeling in the world,” she said. “Having to walk around all day ... the fear of being outside by yourself in the nighttime.”

She said she has slept outside, in shelters, at friends’ houses, and in abandoned buildings where she feared for her safety with people doing drugs nearby.

“They get crazy when they get high,” she said. “Most of the time you don’t sleep because you’re afraid to close your eyes.”

Keller said she has worked off and on as a waitress. Three years ago, she managed to get an apartment, but could only afford to keep it for four months. “I fooled myself,” she said. “I figured I could do this.”

Keller said she’s been drug-free for over a year, and is working to secure custody of her 11-year-old daughter, who lives with her grandmother.

Since March, she’s been staying in Martha’s Place, a homeless shelter in town. A staff member there helped her fill out a VI-SPDAT, a survey that the 100-day challenge has been using to assess the relative vulnerability of individual homeless people in New Haven.

“I didn’t think anything was going to come of it,” Keller said. “I’ve been turned down so long.”

The VI-SPDAT indicated that Keller was vulnerable enough to be among the people tapped for housing during the 100-day challenge. Columbus House’s David McCarthy (at left in photo) was assigned to work with Keller to find her a home.

McCarthy called Keller while she was waitressing one day and told her she should start getting her documents together—birth certificate, social security card, driver’s license. Keller set to work immediately, taking the train to Greenwich to get a copy of her birth certificate.

Then, while Keller was riding the bus, McCarthy called with some good news: Her housing voucher (pictured)—what he calls a “golden ticket”—had come through.

“He said, ‘You’re approved. They approved you.”

She was officially offered a housing voucher through Shelter Plus Care, a state and federal program that subsidizes housing for the homeless and disabled. The voucher promises that Shelter Plus Care will pay $980 in rent, to any landlord who takes Keller as a tenant.

“I feel like I won the lottery,” she said. “Tears were coming down my face.”

With McCarthy’s help, Keller has started looking at apartments. She said she’d like to live in Westville. She said she wants “something clean, something homey.”

The Beginning

“This is the start of it,” said McCarthy. Now that all the city’s agencies are working together, “people like Cynthia are being housed in record time.”

“The process was astounding to watch,” he said.

“It’s pretty amazing,” said Amy Casavina Hall, a vice president at the United Way, which is a partner and funder in the 100-day challenge.

“The 100-day challenge established the urgency” from funders to front-line workers, she said. It gave people the freedom to look beyond established practices and invent new ways to work together.

Part of the challenge going forward will be “figuring out how we sustain this long-term,” Hall said.

The ultimate goal is to get to “functional zero,” to have systems in place so that people don’t stay homeless for years, that New Haven has no chronically homeless, only people who need short-term help.

Meanwhile, the 100-day challenge still has to find homes for 72 people who now have vouchers, plus 10 who don’t yet have vouchers. Organizers are still looking for landlords with vacant one-bedroom units and efficiencies.

Keller said she plans to look at more apartments this week, to finally find a new home for herself and live without fear.


Tags: ,

Post a Comment

Commenting has closed for this entry


posted by: McMansion man on July 16, 2014  3:04pm

I would like to see where they are in 100 days from taking occupancy

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on July 16, 2014  3:52pm

98 Homeless People Win “Golden Tickets

This is a BAND-AID.You want housing for the homeless.Do what Robert Hayes did.In 1979 a lawyer named Robert Hayes, who co-founded Coalition for the Homeless, brought a class action lawsuit in New York State Supreme.The landmark victory in the 1979 lawsuit Callahan v. Carey paved the way for further legal victories that ensured the right to shelter for homeless men, women, children, and families in New York City.

The Callahan Legacy:  Callahan v. Carey and the Legal Right to Shelter.


In fact the city of New York had to open a agency call the Department of Homeless Services.


posted by: Obrero on July 17, 2014  8:15am

Of course, the work of the Hundred Days campaign is to be applauded as a life-changer for all of those individuals who get housing.  But make no mistake: “Functional zero” homelessness requires a system-changer effort.  Policies in this city that criminalize homelessness and welcome gentrification without 1:1 replacement of low income housing units in all development plans, and the predominance of non-living-wage jobs, create a permanent underclass that no amount of social work will remedy.  So let’s applaud what’s being done for these hundred individuals without letting it lead us into delusional thinking.

posted by: Adam on July 17, 2014  10:36am

I have been homeless for 3 years on the New Haven Green and the shelters in the winter. I completed the survey and was chosen as one of the 109. I have not received a call yet and once again my 90 days at the shelter is up in 2 weeks. So back to the New Haven Green it is and once again taxing the system with ER visits just to get out if the elements. My VI-SPDAT score was very high and I dont quite understand what is going on. Its not right to tell someone they were chosen after 3 years of living outside and I have yet to receive a call about anything. Someone please help!!!!!

posted by: Jones Gore on July 17, 2014  6:19pm

It would be interesting is the city and agency workers would give themselves 90 days to house individuals that have some form of income.

My list of prioritization would look like this:

1) Anyone generating or getting some form of income.
A)full and part-time workers, B)Elderly, C)Physically or mentally disabled

2)Women with children( section 8 priority)

3) Single Women and Men unemployed without the underlining issues mentioned in the the first category

4)Men and women homeless due to parole or probation conditions.