Chronic homelessness on decline in Connecticut

Chronic homelessness in Connecticut has dropped by 20 percent since 2015, according to a January report from the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness (CCEH). According to a January 26 count coordinated by the CCEH, the number of people suffering from chronic homelessness has dropped from 538 to 439 since last year.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development applies the term “chronically homeless” to individuals with severe disabilities who have been without housing for nearly a year. According to Lisa Tepper Bates, executive director of the CCEH, people who become chronically homeless face a unique set of challenges, often due to their disabilities.

“These are folks who will have great difficulty and cannot live without support and assistance,” said Tepper Bates. “We believe that it’s that condition that often means they’ve fallen into homelessness and cannot exit.”

Tepper Bates said she also believes that Connecticut’s use of both state and federal resources is helping the state make strides in ending homelessnes. The state has been able to develop new resources to help end homelessness, including a statewide database for shelters to help them track their clients and a statewide list that prioritizes members by need. The database allows different shelters across the state to share client information, so a person doesn’t have to answer the same questions each time they enter a new shelter.

“The idea is that we don’t want to re-traumatize by asking the same background questions whenever they enter the shelter,” said Tepper Bates. “By having a record, we don’t have to ask all the same questions but everyone has the same understanding of who this person is and what they need.”

Tepper Bates also said that these coordination efforts have made a big difference in Connecticut’s decline in chronic homelessness.

“It’s been a very deliberate intention to coordinate efforts of multiple providers,” she said. “We have a shared list of clients and use this approach where we’re prioritizing clients in terms of need. That was not the case three years ago. It’s been an evolution. We’ve been working very hard for the last three years to develop real coordination and procedures. It is the results here that are showing that it’s working.”

Sarah Fox, CCEH’s director of advocacy and community impact, also said she thinks it’s inter-organization collaboration that’s helping the state in its mission.

“It’s the people who provide the housing, but also the people working in shelters and mental health organizations,” Fox said. “All those organizations are working closely and coming together to prioritize those most vulnerable. It’s very clear to me that this is something that’s a goal across the state. The collaboration, will and drive to end chronic homelessness is incredible.”

Since 2014, chronic homelessness has been declining in Connecticut. The CCEH’s report shows that from 2014 to 2015, the numbers dropped by nearly 50 percent and have been on a steady decline ever since.

Connecticut’s overall goal is to end chronic homelessness by the end of 2016, as part of the government’s Zero 2016 initiative. Connecticut is one of four states participating in Zero 2016, a national effort to end chronic and veteran homelessness by December 2016. According to the report, Connecticut has already ended veteran homelessness by placing long-term homeless veterans in housing and securing housing for recently homeless veterans within 90 days. Tepper Bates said she thinks the state will reach its goal to end chronic homelessness by the end of the year.

“Our objective is to place those who are chronically homeless into permanent subsidized housing and provide for them case management to help them adjust and have them living in their own permanent apartment and have them access services they may need,” she said. “We‘re making great progress.”

Fox thinks the state might even reach its goal sooner. “We’re working on a person-by-person basis now,” she said. “It’s not program-centered anymore, but person centered. We might end it earlier than the end of the year.”

Erin Kayata is a journalist currently living in the Boston area.

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