Years ago -- 27 to be precise -- the Friendship Center in New Britain started a new program called the Emergency Needs Ministry Program (so named because it was started and mostly funded by the local faith community). It functioned as a homeless prevention program using funds to help those living in poverty with rent, utilities, medical expenses and other needs. Without this assistance, many people would have become homeless.
The program still exists and still prevents individuals and families from becoming homeless.
I’m concerned that with so much attention given to rapid re-housing, we are leaving prevention out of the picture for ending homelessness. Yes, moving folks out of shelters into permanent housing is important work. Keeping people from becoming homeless in the first place, whether you call it prevention or diversion, is also an important tool. We can’t prevent all homelessness. Neither can we move all people out of shelters as quickly as we would like.
But using both strategies in equal portions can move us further toward our goal. So policy makers and funders: Please don’t leave prevention out of the equation when doing your work. We’re counting on you to get it right.
By the way, our current emergency needs coordinator came out of homelessness. She is living in permanent supportive housing with her two children. In fact, out of our staff of 32, 13 -- yes, 13 -- of our staff are living in permanent supportive housing, either scattered-site or project-based. All were formerly homeless. So remember, non profits: If we won’t hire our clients, residents and tenants, how can we expect anyone else to do so?
Ellen Perkins Simpson is the Executive Director of the Friendship Service Center in New Britain.
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