Smart Investment: Housing the Homeless

With the help from donors, VCF grants support resident services at Spooner House. A VCF grant also helped Spooner House move in 2008 into a bigger and better building to serve more clients.
Homelessness is more complicated than just not having a home. People with low incomes and high housing costs are at risk, especially when confronted with another issue, such as mental or physical disabilities, substance abuse, divorce, domestic abuse or a lack of education.

Because each case is different many area agencies coordinate care and use their expertise to help homeless clients. That's why Spooner House--the only homeless shelter in the Valley--asks residents to stay for six months. During those six months, a case worker helps the resident set goals and get connected to appropriate services to get back on the path to self-sufficiency.

Nathan Kyder, a social worker with the Visiting Nurse Association of South Central Connecticut, visits residents at Spooner House weekly. Kyder is currently helping a man whose chronic pain is making it difficult to support his family. The pain and frustration are making him depressed.

It's common, Kyder says, to see individuals struggling with multiple issues at once. Kyder is trying to connect the man with a pain management doctor while Kyder is helping the man deal with his depression. Spooner House and other organizations often collaborate to help residents.

"We make sure we're all on the same page, and together we make sure nothing falls through the cracks for the residents," he says. Despite reports of an improved economy, the number of people experiencing homelessness has continued to grow. Statewide, there's been a 7% increase in homeless shelter populations since 2008.

Some of that increase is coming from an educated middle class who've lost their jobs and have nowhere else to turn.
"What we're hearing is that they can't afford a place to live, and they've worn out their welcome with friends and family," says Spooner House executive director Susan Agamy. "The shelter is a last resort."

Spooner House has 36 beds for long-term stays and an additional six for overnight stays during the winter. Spooner is one of the few shelters that serves families with children. They also serve single men and women.

Agamy estimates that about two-thirds of their residents have addiction or mental health issues. "Mental health stands in the way of everything," she says. "Before that's addressed you can't do anything else."

"Our goal has always been to help our clients break that cycle so when they leave Spooner, they have skills to maintain housing and self sufficiency for themselves and their families," says Agamy.

"We're not just a warm place to sleep." That's what Kevin was looking for when he called Spooner House. Kevin is a 53-year-old machinist and an alcoholic. Kevin moved from Providence to Bridgeport in 2006 for a job. A year later he lost the job when he relapsed. "From then on, I've been in and out of treatment centers," he says. "I get cleaned up, get a job and then I relapse."

When he relapses, he often loses his job, and his place to live. Recently, he stayed on a friend's couch for two months while waiting for a spot at Spooner House.

No alcohol or drugs are allowed at Spooner House, and Kevin's been attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

"They're going to try and help me," he says of Spooner. "I am incredibly grateful." Kevin has also been meeting with Latesha Johnson, BH Care's homeless outreach case manager. She helped Kevin sign up for state health care and unemployment benefits, and gave him a clothing voucher for My Sister's Closet in Ansonia.

After connecting people to benefits, Johnson begins to address mental health issues and helps residents to overcome obstacles to self sufficiency.

"We all work together, like an action team" Johnson says of the organizations that partner with Spooner to help the homeless.

What You Can Do:

Donate professional clothing and shoes to My Sister's Place.

Hire a homeless applicant, if you're an employer.

Support organizations that help the homeless.