NEW HAVEN — Advocates who launched an effort in April to line up housing and support services for the city's homeless said Tuesday their new, more systematic approach has been far more successful than in the past.
Leigh Shields Church, who ran the 100-day challenge to battle chronic homelessness, told a group that included Mayor Toni Harp and U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal that the initiative had identified about 700 homeless people during a survey and had assigned 102 people to housing.
She credited the creation of a centralized application system and a risk-based housing award system as a sea change in how the city assists its homeless population.
"Our system has been disorganized... certainly [before the 100-day challenge] we were doing our work with lots of passion, but maybe not in the most efficient way," Church told the group of about 40 at the United Way branch on James Avenue.
Veronica Cruz, who works with Columbus House, a transitional and permanent housing organization in New Haven, said that the city has come together in the last 100 days, with clear results.
"Part of the amazing thing with creating a new system is coming together as a community and pulling resources into one pool," she said.
The 100-day challenge was a joint effort by the Greater New Haven Opening Doors: A Regional Alliance to Prevent and End Homelessness, the Rapid Results Insittute and the 100,000 Homes Campaign.
Murphy, who spent a day with a homeless man in New Haven this winter, said the man now has a full-time job and an apartment.
"He is a success story," Murphy said. "But unfortunately the numbers suggest that things are trending the other way, that homelessness is on the rise."
Murphy singled out the central application system for housing and said it seemed to correct entry barriers that hinder access to a number of state services.
"You could replicate that set of barriers in almost every social services system in the state," Murphy said, remarking that central application systems for services like health care could reduce waste and eliminate the duplication of efforts.
Panelists also discussed next steps in New Haven, including goals to eradicate veterans' homelessness in the city by the end of 2015, chronic homelessness by the end of 2016, and all homelessness by 2020.
The critical ingredients, most agreed, are jobs and affordable housing. Panelists stressed that most of the solutions the city can offer are temporary because of cost constraints; the homeless, they said, need to be able to find jobs so they can use state assistance as a take-off point.
Blumenthal, who has been outspoken on the issue of veterans' homelessness, reiterated his charge as the meeting began.
"America should be ashamed and outraged that a single veteran is homeless in the country today," he said.
After the advocates shared the results of the 100-day challenge, Blumenthal and others said they were encouraged by the progress.
"This is really remarkable. It's a game changer in my view," Blumenthal said.