An orphaned teenager lives with her uncle. Then the uncle loses his job and says he doesn’t have enough money to feed her. She must leave.
Another teenage girl misses so many classes due to homelessness that she basically drops out of school. Yet she needs a place to sleep and considers the area around school relatively safe, so she spends nights under the outdoor lunch tables. When she one day goes back to class, her teacher yells at her for wearing dirty clothes.
New Haven’s premier agencies addressing homelessness — Youth Continuum and Columbus House — now will have more tools to address such difficult situations facing homeless young people, defined as 18 to 24 years old.
The two agencies are beneficiaries of large hunks of $6.5 million in new grant money awarded to Connecticut by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program. Connecticut’s $6.5 million was the largest grant to any state.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal came bearing that good news to a press conference convened at Columbus House on Ella Grasso Boulevard mid-afternoon on Friday.
Many of the city’s and state’s homeless kids are LGBTQ or are pregnant or teen parents. They don’t feel comfortable being placed for temporary assistance in the older and often chronically sicker populations in the mens and women’s shelters. So early interventions pay off.
Columbus House Chief Executive Officer Alison Cunningham said her group’s grant is $502,057. The agency plans to use it in Middletown, Meriden, and Wallingford, where Columbus House also operates. It then will subcontract for increased beds—short term housing and case management and the hiring of “youth navigators.” These are young people — many with experiences of homelessness themselves — who do initial intakes, identify specific problems, and and help guide kids to resources so they can be rehoused as soon as possible.
Youth Continuum Chief Executive Officer Paul Kosowsky, who was also in attendance, said his group will be receiving $450,000, all to be used in New Haven.
He said the money will help his agency to double from six to 12 the number of short-term beds in its crisis housing program; hire two youth navigators, who are already at work at Youth Continuum’s drop-in center on Grand Avenue; and enable 28 people — up from four — to receive emergency housing stabilization and short-term rent assistance to get into their own apartments as soon as possible.
Taken all together, Kosowsky said, these resources and approaches represent “the most comprehensive system for homeless youth in Connecticut.”
He estimated there are 860 homeless people between ages 18 and 24 statewide. His group deals with approximately 200 a year in New Haven through permanent and transitional housing programs and case management.
Many of them need the help of “youth navigators” and rapid rehousing funds because “they couch-surf and they don’t want people to know,” said Cunningham.
“When kids couch surf, they know where they are tonight, but not tomorrow,” Kosowky said. “Then sometimes they trade their bodies. This helps us to help them avoid these results.”
He said at any moment there are from five to ten kids on a shelter wait list. But they prefer to endure homelessness than to go into the men’s or women’s shelter. With the new funds, the kids will have more options.
Blumenthal pressed Kosowsky on the reason for the kids’ homelessness. “We deal with throw-away kids,” he replied. “Kids tossed out by family who don’t agree with the lifestyle” choices the kids have made—LGBT or young parenting.
“What did you call them?” Blumenthal said.
“‘Throw-away,’” repeated Kosowsky.
“‘Throw-away’ as opposed to ‘runaway,’” Blumenthal said. He mused that as hungry people are now termed “food-insecure,” the people whose lives he heard described should be called “home-insecure.” That includes lots of working people who, Blumenthal said, are only a car crash, a medical crisis, or a lost job away from the threat of homelessness.
Kosowsky conceded that these kids need a lot of help. They also crave it and make use of the opportunities offered, he said. Nationally 80 to 85 percent of kids in this age category, who receive timely interventions, don’t come back into the homeless system, he reported.
Blumenthal termed that not only a “solid, sustained intervention” but something “miraculous.”
State Housing Commissioner Evonne Klein, who attended with Blumenthal, said Connecticut scored big on the federal grants because of its success in organizing and coordinating anti-homeless resources statewide, including taking effective recent steps to end veterans’ homelessness.