Heart and Home

T he numbers are troubling: more than 3,300 people in Connecticut were counted homeless in 2018, according to the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness. Add to that cuts in state funding to combat the problem, and you might find it hard to stay positive.

Kellyann Day, CEO of New Reach, a New Haven nonprofit that helps those affected by homelessness and poverty to become independent, still manages. Despite a difficult year in which New Reach had to close its Careways shelter in the Hill and reduce some services, Day (pictured center) recently sent a message to supporters that was surprisingly upbeat. “As we begin the new fiscal year, I am excited by the wealth of opportunities that lay ahead for New Reach and for the amazing clients we serve,” she wrote. “In the last twelve months, the state, the homeless services system, and this agency have collectively celebrated tremendous progress towards ending homelessness in CT.”

As we sit in Day’s bright office, shadowed by the Q Bridge exit ramps, our conversation is punctuated by the screech and crash of freight trains in the railyard below. Sometimes the floor shakes. Day hardly seems to notice, though she notes it was tough to ignore the drilling for pilings during the bridge’s construction. The setting seems appropriate for a leader willing to stare down the oncoming threat of homelessness faced by individuals and families in greater New Haven every day.

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Like the Careways closure, more hard choices are coming down the line, Day says, but she credits New Reach’s board for making her tough optimism possible. “I do think that we’ve had smart planning,” she says. “We have not been reactionary. We have had vision, we’ve looked ahead… and we’re not afraid to make difficult decisions.” New Reach and its peer organizations are beginning to approach the problem of homelessness in new ways. It used to be, Day says, that coming up with more shelter beds was seen as the primary solution to homelessness. Now those beds are just one piece of a six-pronged approach for New Reach, which operates Life Haven, a shelter for 20 families located at the old St. Francis convent on Ferry Street, and Martha’s Place on Howard Avenue, a home for 18 single women.

But the organization also works with local and state partners on a newer strategy known as diversion, which seeks to resolve existing housing crises short of taking a precious shelter bed: finding temporary housing elsewhere, or solving the root cause of an individual’s brush with homelessness. “It’s a relatively new intervention,” Day says—“just a couple of years old” nationally. One week earlier, she reports, 17 families were referred to the greater New Haven Coordinated Access Network, of which New Reach is a part, and 13 of those were diverted from the shelter wait list.

“What we don’t know is whether they’ll come back,” Day says. “It’s too new, and we’re just starting to gather data, so we don’t know what the success rate of keeping people diverted is. But it’s a start… You have to start somewhere.”

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New Reach is also trying out short-term “rapid re-housing” assistance to families already in shelter who just “need help getting back on their feet.” And in Bridgeport, in conjunction with the Housing Authority there, New Reach is helping clients who face imminent eviction to prevent that eviction from ever occurring—another way of keeping shelter beds open for those who need them most. In some cases, Day says, there’s just been a miscommunication. In others, “people stop paying rent because they had a facility issue and things snowballed… There [are] all sorts of stories as to why folks are behind in their rent.” The organization’s success rate in this area is remarkable. Last year, of 73 households New Reach helped with eviction prevention, Day reports that 99% remained in their stable housing.

New Reach also takes the long view, offering affordable housing—43 units in Hamden—and “supportive housing” for 126 families and individuals who need more than just a safe place to live, such as those with mental health diagnoses and substance abuse issues. “The biggest problem is that there’s not enough affordable housing for all the people who need it,” Day says. The solution, she adds, is not just more affordable housing but also an economy that provides enough decent-paying jobs. “It’s a bigger issue than what we’re doing here.”

One thing Day wants people to know is that for the past two years, a “streamlined” system has been in place to address issues of homelessness. The state has eight Coordinated Access Networks (CANs), organized by region. A call to 211 is like a knock on “the front door to the system.” People are funneled to the CAN for their region, and the organizations working on housing issues in that region meet with clients to help resolve their problems. New Reach, for example, focuses most of its attention on women and children. Other organizations in the greater New Haven CAN—Columbus House, Liberty Community Services, Christian Community Action, United Way, Spooner House shelter in Derby, Beth El shelter in Milford—focus on their own constituencies. Every morning, the CAN group conferences by phone to talk about people being referred to the system as well as those with ongoing struggles and how best to serve them.

On the day we spoke, 10 families were waiting for shelter. Two years ago, Day says, there were routinely 250 families on the waitlist. But, she adds, “We’re still learning. We’re still, you know, making mistakes and trying to correct them and moving forward… This is not an exact science.”

New Reach
153 East St, New Haven (map)
(203) 492-4866
Website | How to Help

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. From left, image depicts Terri Jo Ciocca, Kellyann Day and Mary Grande.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is a writer and communications pro whose perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the Green and a coffee milkshake. She posts twice-weekly content for book clubs in her Substack newsletter, Better Book Clubs.

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