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Nonprofit: Homelessness Decreases In Connecticut, But Sustained Investment Needed

Tents in the woods off of I-293 in Manchester, New Hampshire
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public Radio
Tents in the woods off of I-293 in Manchester, New Hampshire.

In Massachusetts, a recent federal report found homelessness dropped 8% in 2018. The decline was even more severe in Connecticut, at 24%.

Still, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont has announced an additional $1 million in state funding for homelessness prevention. Is it enough, though?

Kiley Gosselin leads the nonprofit Partnership for Strong Communities, and wrote a recent op-ed in The Hartford Courant, "Connecticut is a leader in ending homelessness, and Gov. Lamont can help finish the job."

Michael Lyle Jr., NEPR: The homelessness situation has improved in Connecticut, but there remains work to be done so everyone has a place to stay, especially in the winter. So how far does this million-dollar grant go?

Kiley Gosselin, Partnership for Strong Communities: This million-dollar grant is money in the right direction. This is a smart repurposing of state funds by our housing commissioner and the governor. And what this does is really focus on prevention.

As you noted, we've seen decreases in our overall homelessness population here in Connecticut. But as we like to say, we're not trying to build the best emergency room, we're trying to build the best health care system, and health care system involves prevention.

And so here in Connecticut, we're really trying to up the focus on prevention, which is what these funds are targeted to do. And so while a million dollars won't go a long way, it's a significant investment in the right direction.

I think if we can sustain that investment from the state over time, in the direction of prevention, we'll see even fewer people entering our emergency shelter system, and avoiding homelessness altogether.

What are some of the other nuances of homelessness in Connecticut, where there are about still 3,000 people living in shelters? And what should be done in order for more significant progress to be made?

Well, this money, for example, is a step in the right direction, as I mentioned. It's really about preventing people from entering that front door of homelessness in the first place. And if they do, having housing resources to exit people quickly.

So that upstream prevention, both in terms of what this money will do, which is provide short-term financial assistance to maybe pay rental arrearages, or make car repairs that prevent a family from becoming homeless — we're really also focused on prevention with other systems, like our criminal justice system, our foster care system, and other systems that most frequently exit folks without necessarily having permanent housing strategies in place.

On the back end, it's about affordable housing. So in Connecticut, similar to Massachusetts, we're a pretty high-cost housing state. And so if we don't have affordable housing units for folks to go to when they are, again, exiting those systems, or exiting the emergency shelter system, we're in a real bind, and we'll see those numbers increase.

So what we really need from our state and federal partners is increased investments in housing subsidies, and affordable housing construction funds.

You stressed the need for the states to invest in new affordable housing. And you say Governor Ned Lamont needs to take more of a lead. And as I understand it, a major investment in housing is held up, in part, over a disagreement on how to pay for transportation improvements. So what's going on there?

There's a lot going on over at the Capitol, and we really don't want the conversation about housing to get lost in the shuffle.

For a long time, Connecticut made some significant investments, year over year, in developing new affordable housing. And as we discussed in the op-ed, the governor didn't put any new investments — put zero dollars in his last budget for affordable housing.

Now, the legislature did put funding in. And so we're hopeful that a bond package that may come out of — whether it's a discussion with tolls, or separate bonding package — will include additional funds. I think it's critical to note, though, that we're really at a place where we're going to start potentially losing affordable housing units, and that's because we have a tremendous number of units that were created under the tax credit program, and other different forms of funding, that are going to reach the end of their 30-year deed restriction period.

If we're not focused on preserving those units, and also rehabbing old supportive housing units — that are affordable housing units — that are in need of repair, we're going to lose units out of our affordable-housing stock.

So it's not just about investments that's required to create new units. ...It's about investing in the units that we've already created, and making sure that those remain available to our low-income families and individuals across the state.

Michael Lyle Jr. joined the New England Public Media news team in early 2019.
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