GUILFORD — You might not associate Shoreline towns like Guilford and Madison with homelessness.
But among the state’s homeless population, much of which is concentrated in urban centers, it’s not difficult to find individuals who once called those communities home.
It’s with that in mind, First Selectman Matthew Hoey said, that Guilford is partnering with United Way to implement a shelter diversion program.
Funded by a $350,000 Community Development Block Grant from the state Department of Housing, the goal of the program is to keep residents along the Shoreline out of homelessness.
A Point-in-Time count, organized by the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, found 3,033 people experiencing homelessness in the state in January 2019, down 18 percent from January 2018. The decline is consistent with an overall trend of decreased homelessness in the state since 2007, according to a CCEH report.
Among those identified were 305 families.
“One of the big impediments to providing people with resources is accessibility,” Hoey said, noting an unmet need for services on the Shoreline.
Hoey knows of folks in town currently struggling with housing, he said, adding that though Guilford can provide some support, it does not have access to the same resources as United Way.
“On a weekly basis, we have many requests because people are struggling with housing issues,” said Guilford Social Services Director Tammy DeFrancesco. “I think it’s wonderful that we’re going to have somebody here on the Shoreline … Residents will be better served.”
The grant will fund two full-time diversion specialists, at least one of whom will be based in Guilford, according to a presentation provided by Kelly Fitzgerald, director of the Greater New Haven Coordinated Access Network, a collaborative based out of United Way.
Fitzgerald also spoke to the unmet need in the region.
“We’ve heard loud and clear that, regardless of perception, there is a need for services in the Shoreline community,” Fitzgerald said.
Often, folks along the Shoreline who call the 2-1-1 housing help hotline miss their appointments with diversion specialists, which may be scheduled in places such as New Haven, Fitzgerald said. But the shelter diversion program would bring resources to them.
As DeFrancesco pointed out, “Sometimes people that are finding themselves in this situation don’t even have the resources to get to New Haven.” She’s optimistic that the new program will enable them to receive help more quickly.
In September, 2-1-1 received 50 calls from East Haven, Madison, Guilford and Branford, Fitzgerald said, adding that another 23 came from North Branford and North Haven, whose residents tend to prefer Shoreline services.
But the 2-1-1 data alone is not a perfect way to capture need, Fitzgerald said. Many families move multiple times before seeking help, and even individuals struggling with homelessness in places like New Haven might have started on the Shoreline, Fitzgerald continued.
And those are often the communities they feel most connected to.
By localizing services, Fitzgerald hopes the shelter diversion program will initiate earlier intervention and “keep people in the communities that they want to be in,” she said.
Even though Guilford is the grant recipient, the project is intended to provide support to other nearby towns.
“No community is immune to people being in a financial crisis,” Fitzgerald said. “We need to, in Connecticut, think more regionally about the way we serve our communities.”
It was Fitzgerald who approached Hoey about the program, the first selectman said. Even though a single town acts as the grant applicant, Fitzgerald envisions a program with services spread along the Shoreline, she said.
Hoey “has been a strong partner, coming to the table with that mindset,” Fitzgerald said. .
The funding creates three full-time and two part-time positions, according to Fitzgerald’s presentation.
One of the diversion specialists, who will conduct CAN assessments for those in need, is slated to work out of Guilford’s Women & Family Life Center, Program Director Wendy DeLucca said.
Though that employee technically will be employed by the Beth-El Center, the Women & Family Life Center, which works closely with Branford, Guilford and Madison Social Services, will help the specialist make connections with local agencies and identify appropriate resources for those in need, DeLucca said.
The employee will be mobile, and able to go out in the community and meet people on-site, DeLucca said. That limits problems a lack of transportation might cause for those in need, she noted.
“We’re very excited to be part of this,” DeLucca said. “This is a collaborative effort.”
DeLucca believes the program is bringing “greater attention to ... the needs of the Shoreline that, I think, go unnoticed.”
The reasons for homelessness are so varied, DeLucca said, that the issue crosses socio-economic strata — and town lines.
Guilford and United Way are partnering with other community groups, too, such as the Branford Community Dining Room, as well as Columbus House and New Reach in New Haven, Fitzgerald said.
Overall, the project aims to embed resources throughout the Shoreline community, Hoey said.
Another important piece of the program is coordination with local landlords — the funding covers a part-time housing specialist who will work with them.
That employee will “cultivate relationships with local landlords” and work to “increase the pool of landlords that have affordable units,” Fitzgerald said.
Low credit scores, eviction histories and criminal records can make it difficult for people to find housing, Fitzgerald said. She hopes “having the resources of the CAN … will alleviate some of the fears that landlords feel when taking in a family with that kind of history.”
For families who run out of options, the shelter diversion program will connect them to shelters in places such as New Haven and Milford, Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald acknowledged that in addition to services such as the shelter diversion program, the availability of affordable housing also is a vital factor in helping people stay in or return to their communities.
“That’s another area where I think [Matt Hoey]’s been a leader in the community,” she said.
In August, Guilford’s Board of Selectmen authorized Hoey to negotiate an agreement with a developer for a plan to build affordable housing units on the Woodruff property, meeting minutes indicate.
Hoey hopes to wrap up those negotiations next month, he said.
Guilford also participates in a Housing Rehabilitation Program. Last year, it was awarded $440,000 toward health and safety repairs on households whose occupants meet a certain low-income threshold, Hoey said.
Sixteen houses currently are benefitting from the funding, the Hoey said. “There are pockets of need in this community that most people don’t see,” he said.
As for the newest way to meet those needs, Fitzgerald hopes to have the Shelter Diversion Program positions filled by the start of next year at the latest, she said.