Plan to help homeless

Friday, February 7, 2014
Waterbury Republican-American
Waterbury, CT

Community support seen key to success of 10-year effort

With the numbers of homeless rising in the city, those involved in the ambitious Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness project hope soliciting support from the community at large will be key to its success as the effort reaches its halfway point.

Project organizers met Thursday at the United Way of Greater Waterbury to discuss strides the program has made over the past year, and directions it may take in 2014.

The United Way's Joann Reynolds-Balanda, co-chairwoman of the plan's Steering Committee, said a film screening and discussion last year with Hollywood director Tom Shadyac was one of the most important anti-homelessness efforts made.

Shadyac, whose many movies with star Jim Carrey include "Ace Ventura, Pet Detective," "Liar Liar" and "Bruce Almighty," discussed his film "I AM," an introspective documentary looking at how individuals can make a difference in society.

"That was really important because it really engaged community members who aren't necessarily social service providers or connected to us on a regular basis ... and we've had a great response from people," Reynolds-Balanda said. "It allowed us a deeper dialogue on homelessness with community members."

William Rybczyk, co-chairman of the Ten-Year Plan initiative and director of research, development and planning at New Opportunities for Waterbury Inc., said the film's theme about making a difference provided the perfect backdrop for Ten-Year Plan committee members to talk with the public about taking the steps necessary to end homelessness in the city.

Facing budget cuts related to the government sequester makes the task more difficult, Rybczyk said.

The plan's annual report, released Thursday, indicates the number of homeless in Waterbury has risen from 130 in 2009, when the initiative began, to 179 in 2013.

However, the report also shows clear gains. The number of formerly homeless people now living within the "continuum of care" provided by the city's various social service agencies has nearly doubled, from 176 in 2010 to 318 in 2013, the report indicates.

Among other accomplishment the report notes are:

A count of homeless youth in the city, the only effort of this kind in the state, identified 45 young homeless people in a two-week period.

An average of about $1,000 each was given to 95 households through the Flexible Assistance Fund. A total of almost $97,000 was awarded to those in danger of entering homelessness. The money was used to pay rent, utilities and other bills.

A total of 34 supportive housing vouchers were added in Waterbury.

Events like the annual Project Homeless Connect and Job Connect served the homeless and jobless with services and medical care.

Reynolds-Balanda said the annual report will be a valuable tool for those involved in the effort. "It continues to provide us with a measurement to look at how we are achieving our benchmarks," she said. "The many volunteers involved with this are the inspirational people who keep this alive."

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