A shelter for homeless families will close next month, as its parent agency struggles to balance its books — and meet the need for emergency beds even as industrywide policy shifts towards longer-term supportive housing.
The Careways Shelter for Women and Children will be shuttered to stabilize two more family shelters and other housing programs that New Reach, Inc., runs in New Haven and Fairfield Counties.
Careways, a 10-unit shelter, got its start 27 years ago after a Yale Divinity student and a landlord teamed up to convert a rooming house into a shelter for young moms with nowhere else to go. The first facility that New Reach operated, its scheduled closure has dealt an emotional blow to the staff’s morale.
By the third week of August, the 10 families who are currently residing at Careways in the Hill will all move out. Some were already scheduled to move into some of New Reach’s 100 affordable and supportive housing units (meaning long-term, on-site help). The rest will head to New Reach’s other two shelters, Life Haven and Martha’s Place, which together have 38 units, or if all the beds are taken, to Spooner House in Shelton and Beth-El Center in Milford. (New Reach keeps the locations of small shelters like Careways out of the public eye to protect the residents.)
The organization owns the building. It doesn’t have plans to sell, CEO Kellyann Day said; it hopes to reopen the building for a mission-aligned, financially feasible purpose in the future.
New Reach just doesn’t have the money to keep the facility open any longer without stretching its other programs far too thin, Day said in an interview at the agency’s headquarters at 153 East St. on Thursday afternoon.
“This is a difficult time for our state and the families that we serve. We are doing all we can — and we can do a lot — to limit negative impacts on our clients and the community we serve,” Day said. “Closing Careways is an unfortunate but necessary step to ensure our other shelters remain financially secure.”
The nonprofit’s leadership first fretted it would have to close the shelter in 2015 to make up a $553,000 deficit. (To put that in comparison, in the latest public tax return, filed in 2014, New Reach reported $5.67 million in expenses, $1.53 million of which went to the emergency shelters.) Day said the organization since been hit by a “perfect storm.”
The federal government has increasingly shifted dollars to constructing affordable housing and providing rental subsidies as solutions to family homelessness, rather than keeping shelters open, she noted. While Day acknowledged permanent housing is “the key to ending homelessness,” she argued that shelters are still a necessary part of the system. “They need to be housed tonight,” while a more stable situation is lined up, she explained. In fact, even as more affordable housing opened, her agency hasn’t seen demand flag. If anything, the need for beds has increased, she said.
The state, meanwhile, has improved regional response systems with eight Coordinated Access Networks (CAN) that share information and assessments, rapidly re-house the homeless and provide clients with necessary services. But Connecticut hasn’t kept up with increasing costs of operating a shelter. “The funding has stayed the same or gone down,” Day said, even as she needed to add new line items for expenses, like an IT system to share intake data with the CAN and results with their backers. The state surely can’t catch up now, as it faces a $5 billion deficit of its own over the next two years.
Local philanthropy and the city budget probably couldn’t make a substantial dent in what’s needed to cover the costs at Careways, added Day, who sees another side of the picture as a member of The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven’s board of directors. To be clear, she still needs all the support she can get from local donors: Day is hoping those who funded Careways recognize it was “the best financial decision” and continue to back the organization’s other shelters, she added.
Day was clear that she wasn’t assigning fault to the government. “In no way do I blame the state or the city for the decisions we need to make,” she said. “This is something that is happening throughout New England. I think we’re struggling right now, as nonprofits, to keep up.”
To stabilize next year’s budget, Day is assuming that state funding will remain flat. Even at that level, New Reaches will have to reduce costs across the organization to stay solvent. In addition to closing the Careways shelter, the agency plans to eliminate several positions from the 85-person staff, including a receptionist and administrative positions; to cut services, like food and children’s programming at one shelter; and to coordinate with other nonprofits to avoid duplicative initiatives. And then, there’s the usual belt-tightening: “no longer buying paper, pens and water bottles, no longer renting space, paying for parking, going out to lunch or ordering pizzas,” Day said.
“We’re nervous to spend any money. We don’t have a clear picture of what the funding is going to look like,” she continued. “The biggest struggle with not having a state budget is that it’s hard for us to budget. Obviously, there’s a level of anxiety and fear on the staff level.”
New Reach is also contacting its existing network of landlords to plead for some extra time while the state’s rental assistance payments trickle in, allowing them to maintain a healthy cashflow.
If the state cuts funding, the not-for-profit will have to slash further.
In the annual point-in-time survey conducted this January, volunteers found 543 people in New Haven experiencing homelessness. Of those, 81 were parents and 141 were children, constituting nearly one-fifth of Connecticut’s total family homelessness. The final tally represented a 13 percent drop overall compared to the prior year, but a 4 percent increase for those who were facing an emergency.
Day said paring back services was a shame, considering how recently the state ended veteran homelessness and is approaching an end to chronic homelessness. (By “end,” she means creating a functional zero, where losing one’s shelter is a “brief, rare and nonrecurring” experience, not that it never happens.) She said she didn’t want to “lose the momentum” that they needed to end homelessness for families and for unaccompanied youth.
“We’re saving lives [at New Reach] every day. Can you imagine being homeless today?” Day said, looking at the rain outside. “With three little kids? With nowhere to go?” She added, “Protecting some of our most vulnerable citizens and providing the necessary aid to women and children in our community is not an easy task, but it’s one that we must not abandon.”