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The 2016 Reaching Home Celebration Dinner and Housing Awards was held June 16 in Cromwell, and 320 people were on hand for the event. This year’s Dinner was full of energy and enthusiasm as we celebrated being the second state to effectively end Veterans homelessness earlier this year. Lt Governor Nancy Wyman stopped by and chatted with awardees and some of the recently housed Veterans who were in attendance.
Dave Martineau, Executive Director of Mercy Housing and Shelter Corporation and Chair of the Reaching Home Steering Committee, provided a rousing welcome, firing up the energy for continuing to make progress on ending homelessness in our state. This year’s Reaching Home video featured moving portraits of three Connecticut Veterans who experienced homelessness and who have successfully found housing through the VASH program.
Alicia Woodsby, Executive Director of the Partnership for Strong Communities, reflected on the work done by the Campaign over the past year, including successes, ongoing work and new initiatives, all a part of our collaborative efforts to end homelessness for all groups across the state. Alicia welcomed Evonne Klein, Commissioner of the State Department of Housing (DOH), as the event’s Master of Ceremonies. Commissioner Klein spoke about the many investments made at the Department of Housing over the past few years and the continued support planned for the future to accomplish these goals, and on the tremendous successes we have all made in this work. She then introduced Alice Minervino, the Housing Program Coordinator for Statewide Services at DHMAS. Alice announced the creation of a new award, the Barbara Geller Career Achievement Award, commemorated with a plaque which will reside at Geller Commons, a 33-unit affordable and supportive housing complex in Hamden. The plaque was accepted by Kelly Ann Day of New Reach, who developed Geller Commons.
Commissioner Klein introduced a number of individuals who were being honored for their outstanding efforts to end homelessness over the past year.
The Diane Randall Leadership Award was unusual this year, as it was awarded to the entire Frontline Team that worked tirelessly to end homelessness amongst Veterans:
The Grant Per Diem (GPD) Liaisons: John Chiechi, Mel Leigh, Preston Maynard, and Jen Moriarty. They embedded within CT’s GPD programs on a weekly basis and helped lead the critical shift to interim housing, encouraging GPD programs to lower admission barriers and integrate new strategies to more quickly serve Veterans. They also work directly with GPD case managers to ensure Veterans are on a rapid path to permanent housing.
The Managers and Frontline staff of the GPD programs:
The Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program managers and their frontline staff: Joyce Barcley and the Workplace, Inc. SSVF team; Steve Bigler and the CRT SSVF team; Andrew Black and the Columbus House SSVF team; Dan Walsh and the Veterans Inc. team. SSVF providers work to quickly identify, engage and stably house Veterans.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs CT Outreach team: Mark Peluso and Matt Abbott and the entire team who works with SSVF providers to coordinate statewide outreach efforts and more quickly find Veterans who fall into homelessness and those living out on the streets.
CT Department of Veterans Affairs: Maria Cheney, Thomas Saadi and the entire team who worked to implement an interim housing program within the Rocky Hill campus and to reimagine all of Rocky Hill to better serve the needs of our Veterans.
HUD-VASH managers: Debra Minzy, John Sullivan and their team, who found ways to streamline this vital program by implementing and aligning their work to meet new protocols and continuously supporting high need Veterans in securing and maintaining housing.
The Public Housing Authorities that administer the HUD-VASH program. This group collaborated with HUD-VASH to drastically reduce the amount of time to house Veterans by speeding up their internal processes.
The Coordinated Access Networks (CANs), as represented by the following:
The CAN shelter providers who provide quick referrals and assist providers in connecting with Veterans while also working with these Veterans to provide access to needed resources.
Brian Roccapriore, Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, who monitors the referral process and the progress toward housing ineligible Veterans, while assisting with implementation of data improvements and data integration. Maureen Pasko, CT Department of Veterans Affairs, is an integral part of the leadership team who manages the details of integrating new policies into many of the above-mentioned programs.
CT Department of Corrections team: Trina Sexton, Pat Kupec, Craig Washington, Brian Bradway, Adam Mack, Alberto Santana and Camber McCue. They worked to establish a Veterans’ Unit at Cybulski Reintegration Center, understanding the need to support Veterans with their successful reentry thereby reducing issues such as homelessness that lead to recidivism.
We also want to acknowledge another important member of the leadership team, the Connecticut Veterans Project. Greg Berhman convened the Reaching Home Veterans workgroup with the aid of the Partnership for Strong Communities, bringing together the necessary organizations to form this successful collaboration and making this issue a priority. And Gabriel Zucker, whose highly praised data system and tireless work were a major driving force behind the success of this effort.
The Carol Walter Supportive Housing Tenant Award went to two incredible people who showed commitment to supportive housing advocacy, leadership skills and an effort to make their communities a better place. The award went to Joseph “Gypsy” Grillo, a Vietnam Veteran now living in Victory Gardens, and to Joseph Sicilia, a Keep the Promise advocate and dedicated member of Opening Doors of Fairfield County.
The Rev. Richard Schuster Advocacy Award was given to Lydia Brewster this year. Lydia is Assistant Director for Community Services at St. Vincent de Paul in Middletown for her tireless energy and commitment to directly working to prevent and end homelessness.
Thank you to everyone who joined us for the 11th annual Reaching Home Celebration Dinner and Housing Awards!
Mark your calendars for next year’s Dinner in June 2017 at the Radisson Hotel in Cromwell.
We will see you there!