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#HHHWeek: Defeating COVID-19 and Homelessness Takes Collaboration

June 9, 2020

by Suzanne Piacentini
Field Office Director, HUD Hartford

An African proverb that has always resonated with me says, “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go farther, go together.”  I think this proverb aptly describes the heroicSuzanne Piacentini work of the multitude of community, advocacy, philanthropic, city, state and federal agency leaders who support our everyday heroes on the frontlines of CT’s fight to make homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring for our families, youth and individuals.

The strength of our CT team is needed now more than ever as we work to alleviate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on those we serve. Our history of working together provides a strong foundation of knowledge and confidence in each other and in the system that we have created and nurtured. It is on these foundations that we currently stand as we wage this battle to protect and serve our most vulnerable shelter residents from this pandemic.

Our statewide campaign to End Veteran’s Homelessness has served as a blueprint for success for other CT initiatives such as the Reaching Home Campaign where we witnessed how the power of strong leadership, combined with amazing new partnerships and targeted education and funding, could realize previously unachievable goals.

Early success in these efforts solidified relationships at all levels, but especially among leaders who had not always known or worked with one another. Equally important in this work is having the confidence in each other’s strengths and knowing that each of us will deliver in our respective areas of work. This has led to success in other areas from ending chronic homelessness to our statewide work to end Youth Homelessness.

As it became clear how devastating COVID-19 would be to our shelter residents and others facing homelessness – whether living outside or in other unstable situations - leaders picked up the phone and reached out to their fearlessly dedicated peers and teams. Despite geographic differences, concerns were the same across our Coordinated Access Networks, and daily conversations ensued to help assess needs and float possible solutions.

People living in crowded situations or unstably housed were now at risk for contracting and spreading this virus. All at once the intersection of housing and public health collided; our housing heroes were now vital partners in creating public health solutions to this pandemic.  

Our leaders knew what to do: move the most vulnerable from shelters to hotels first, decompress existing shelters, divert others from entering the shelter system, then identify more units for permanent housing. To the process additional tasks were added: identify and contract with hotels, find ways to feed and provide necessary supplies and services for those moving to hotels - all of this took leadership and heroic efforts to accomplish in a short period of time.  

Simultaneously other leaders were identifying both interim and permanent funding sources, creatively re-programming existing funds, exploring new and emerging funding options, projecting need, advocating and educating - all while ensuring staff and residents remained safe and healthy.

Writing this makes CT’s response to reducing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our homeless population seem nearly impossible for so many reasons - an extremely compressed timeframe, most agency staffs working remotely, bureaucratic hurdles at every level, systems which can’t “talk” to each other; the list of reasons for possible failure are endless but heroes don’t look at the reasons why something won’t work; they see a need and react, respond instantly and often as a result cause change to occur.

Our CT homelessness leaders are battle proven and each of us knows without a doubt that someone always has our back. From the despair of the pandemic comes hope and a knowledge that our dedicated and heroic homelessness partners will not stop until every person has a safe and stable place to call home.