“We always try to do the best with the resources we have,” Diane Paige-Blondet said.
Paige-Blondet is the executive director of My Sister’s Place, a shelter in Hartford. When asked if she felt the ranking was due to increased government funding, she stifled a chuckle.
“In the last year our funding has been leveled, but in our case it’s the same as going down because we are serving more people,” she explained. “We’re getting the same amount of money because expenses are going up.”
My Sister’s Place provides transitional housing, shelter and food assistance among its services. Illustrative of the recession, Paige-Blondet said the 18-apartment transitional housing unit has a waiting list and the 16-bed emergency shelter had to turn away 200 people in a month because of being filled to capacity.
“Some people decide to come in when they can,” she said. “Other than the coldest days, people will try to find someplace else or double up. That’s still not the same as staying in your own home.”
“Doubling up” is when more people live in a house or apartment than it was designed for, which the report qualified as homeless status.
Working with a low-income population, Paige-Blondet said the financial impact of the recession has pushed her clients’ landlords most directly.
“We have seen our numbers go up not as much because people haven’t been able to pay their rent as much as their landlords are getting foreclosed on,” she said. “In a situation like that where they may have lost a job or are working less hours, they’re homeless.
“These truly are the working poor.”
Paige-Blondet said they do get some out-of-state clients coming to Hartford for shelter, but didn’t stretch the reasoning to Connecticut necessarily as having a reputation of being overwhelmingly responsive to the homeless.
One hint did come, though, in how she described My Sister’s Place as using grant money for a program called Rapid Rehousing that works with entire families and includes counseling and recreational opportunities for children.
“Some places will focus on the individual men and women who bring the kids along with them, but we feel it really needs to be the entire family,” she said. “We try to work with the kids through anger issues or lack of trust they may have. We want to help them develop social skills that will help them be successful.”
The ranking was also a surprise to Rev. Pete Powell, president of the Interfaith Housing Association in Westport. The association supports a 15-bed emergency shelter and a small four-room women’s shelter where kids may also turn up, Powell said.
Westport’s demographics are far different from those Paige-Blondet sees in Hartford.
“We are the richest city in what is one of the richest, if not the richest, county in the country,” Powell said.
Statistics bear that out. According to city-data.com, Westport has a median family income of $147,415, well above the state average of $65,967.
Still, the impact of homelessness is felt in Westport. Powell said even before the recession was in full swing, the agency’s shelter was at capacity. The biggest need now and perhaps in the immediate future is food assistance.
“Our demand for food and utility assistance has certainly gone up recently,” Powell said. “If (the recession) is prolonged for the next six months or so, there are people here living paycheck to paycheck who will be homeless.”