[Hpn] Safe Haven For The Homeless

William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Thu, 10 Feb 2005 11:26:52 -0500

 Safe Haven For The Homeless

 Facility To Draw Clients Not Served By Traditional Shelters

Courant Staff Writer

 February 10, 2005

 NEW HAVEN -- Public housing advocates have long struggled to find a way to 
help the "chronically homeless" - those who don't fit in with traditional 
shelters, often because of severe mental, physical or drug problems.

 Liberty Community Services, a nonprofit organization in New Haven, hopes to 
take a step toward addressing the needs of this group with the opening of 
the state's first "safe haven" housing later this month.

 The 33-unit apartment building on State Street, called Liberty Safe Haven, 
is designed to provide permanent homes for its residents. Liberty Community 
Services is holding a dedication ceremony for the project today.

 The housing facility is based on a model designed by the U.S. Department of 
Housing and Urban Development in the mid-1990s. Though this is Connecticut's 
first, there are several operating in the nation.

 Sarah Caldwell, executive director of Liberty Community Services, said the 
program will provide one-person units to people who have been homeless for 
more than a year or have been homeless on four or more occasions within the 
past three years. Many of these people have been unable to meet the more 
stringent criteria of traditional homeless shelters, such as curfews or 
participation in certain programs. Others have mental and physical problems 
that the shelters can't accommodate.

 "Those are wonderful for a certain group of individuals, but for a certain 
group, that doesn't work," she said.

 Like most everywhere else, advocates say, the homeless population has 
increased in the greater New Haven area in the past few years. The latest 
count is more than 3,000, of which about 250 are chronically homeless. 
According to the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, up to 33,000 
people in the state experience homelessness in a year.

 Liberty Community Services has received 110 referrals for the building.

 Alison Cunningham of the Columbus House, a homeless shelter in New Haven, 
said she's grateful for the extra help at a particularly tough time.

 "Every one of our case managers will be making referrals, as will every 
case manager in every agency in the city," she said. "We're thrilled to have 
additional units in the area."

 Liberty Safe Haven focuses on a "low-demand" philosophy. Residents speak 
with workers about what they want to accomplish while staying at the safe 
haven, and workers will help them achieve it.

 "It might be that they want to begin thinking about their health care," 
Caldwell said. "They've never had a regular doctor, so they may have a slew 
of health needs, having been on the street for a while. For another 
individual, it may be that they want to address an addiction issue."

 Residents will have a one-year renewable lease. Though the goal is to 
prepare residents to live on their own, there's no set time period. For some 
residents, it could be as short as a few months, while others could live in 
the building for several years.

 There will be at least two staff workers on site at all times. One of the 
programs will focus on helping the residents prepare their own meals. Open 
Door Alliance, a program of Liberty Community Services, will be in charge of 
the fourth-floor units, which will house homeless adults whose needs are 
less intensive than the building's other residents.

 Liberty Community Services has been planning the project since 1995. In 
that time, it has raised more than $10 million. Of that, $3.3 million came 
from HUD to cover the operational expenses for the next three years.

 Renovations of the 26,000-square-foot building, which was once a cigar 
factory, cost about $5 million. Caldwell said $1.2 million has been secured 
to cover the building's maintenance for the next 15 years.

 Advocates for the homeless say it's a group they have long struggled with 
placing. Often, traditional homeless shelters have proved intimidating or 
too structured for the chronically homeless.
 Mary McAtee, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition to End 
Homelessness, said Liberty Safe Haven could serve as a stepping stone for 
many residents to more traditional forms of housing.

 "It could make the difference for a person who has been on the street for a 
long time," she said. "There's a certain number of people who have very 
significant barriers to independent living. I do think the model in New 
Haven is going to make a significant difference in the lives of the people 
that they serve."

 Michael Stoops, acting executive director of the National Coalition for the 
Homeless in Washington, D.C., said there's no "hard science" on the 
effectiveness of this type of housing because it's relatively new. But 
there's anecdotal evidence that it's working, he said, getting "the 
hard-core homeless folks off the streets and into programs and, in some 
cases, independent living."

 "There needs to be a program like that in every community where they take 
people as they are and work with them," he said. "It's an important 
component to ending homelessness in any community."

 Copyright 2005, Hartford Courant

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