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CT providers helping curb homelessness concerned as lack of funding threatens 211’s housing hotline

Struggle to find temporary housing as the homeless population grows and temperatures drop.
Mark Lennihan
Finding temporary housing is a struggle as the homeless population grows and temperatures drop.

A “front door” phone line for people experiencing homelessness in Connecticut could soon be cutting back its hours.

Starting in November, United Way’s 211 housing hotline may only be available during weekday business hours. Up until now, the state-funded service has been available 24/7 and has been touted for helping reduce chronic homelessness in Connecticut. The potential change, which was first reported by Hearst Connecticut, is raising concerns among housing advocates as the days get colder.

“We’re a cold shelter state. We’re going into very cold months where you can’t live outside or in your car safely. So this is not the time to not [be] properly staffing or operating the 211 system,” said Carol Martin, the executive director for the Fairfield and Westport housing authorities.

“To not appropriately provide the financial resources necessary to run the infrastructure to 211 is deeply troubling,” Martin said.

United Way of Connecticut was not able to confirm any details about the potential change in hours for Connecticut Public but said it’s working on the issue.

“This is all sort of under discussion with our funders and our partners right now. And it’s an evolving situation,” said Lisa Tepper Bates, president and CEO of United Way of Connecticut.

In Connecticut, if someone is experiencing immediate homelessness — either they are living in uninhabitable conditions or are at risk of doing so in the next five days — they are advised to call United Way’s 211. Currently it’s the only entry point to access help. Housing specialists at the hotline then assess people’s situations and will refer them to local providers or the state’s seven coordinated access networks (CANs), depending on the issue.

Martin, a housing provider, said she’s often tapped later in the homelessness response process. But she said she’s still had a front seat to the housing crisis in the last couple of months – constantly answering emails and phone calls from more people entering homelessness.

A recent report confirms that more people are experiencing homelessness in Connecticut for the first time in nearly a decade.

United Way’s 211 ranks housing and shelter calls as the second-most common request they’ve received in the last year after health care and COVID-19, according to their website. More than 6,000 or 6% of total requests for shelter have gone unmet, the agency reports.

“Society fundamentally hasn’t deemed that everyone has a right to housing,” said David Rich, president and CEO of The Housing Collective, a group that is the backbone for over 200 organizations in the housing space and supports the Fairfield County and Litchfield/Waterbury CANs.

The Housing Collective said that while 211’s potential reduction in hours is far from ideal as the state continues to see a housing shortage, the organizations they support are already thinking of ways to overcome the challenge. Rich says the two CANs they work with will increase in-person meetings with people who need help and will add six staff members to deal with the surge in demand.

With this change, the hotline will no longer be the single entry point into the system. Instead, people in crisis could access help through the hotline or at a designated location in their region. The Housing Collective calls it a “hybrid” model of services and hopes it will better help serve the community.

“We get a lot of feedback on frustration from our community partners from clients accessing the system that it takes a long time to get connected or, you know, sometimes we’re not getting responses or anything like that,” said Jessica Kubicki, also with The Housing Collective. “I am looking forward to transitioning to that hybrid model.”

Camila Vallejo is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. She is a bilingual reporter based out of Fairfield County and welcomes all story ideas at cvallejo@ctpublic.org.

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