Like many other areas of the state, the Windham region has been hit hard by the recession, resulting in an increase in the area’s homeless population in recent years.
A study done by the Windham Regional Community Council, a nonprofit agency providing health and social programs to residents, counted 220 homeless people on Jan. 27, an increase of nearly 100 people from the first year of the annual study in 2007.
“The numbers went up so dramatically,” said WRCC Executive Director Jeffrey Beadle.
The WRCC has outlined a 10-year plan to combat homelessness and will use two federal grants it was recently awarded to fund its efforts. The grants were awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and total more than $419,000.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, state Rep. Susan Johnson, D-Willimantic, and local officials were at the WRCC office on Main Street Thursday morning (Feb. 24) to celebrate the two grants.
“It put the spotlight on WRCC in terms of your success,” Courtney said.
Earlier Thursday, Courtney spoke at a Windham Region Chamber of Commerce breakfast.
Johnson congratulated the agency for the work it has done addressing homelessness in the region.
“It’s vitally important to keep this up,” Johnson said. “It’s important to put the spotlight on the fact that we have a growing homeless population.”
Beadle said the funding will be used to support two programs: Project Home and Project Haven. These programs provide housing subsidies, case management and other services for homeless individuals in the region.
The programs, managed by Kim Lindell and Pat Sullivan, are part of the Greater Windham Region 10-Year Plan to end homelessness, which began in 2007 and is part of a national movement to combat the issue.
“Through their (Lindell and Sullivan) hard work we continue to get funding (from HUD),” Beadle said.
The plan outlines an agenda of activities the community will implement to address homelessness in 20 surrounding communities, including Chaplin, Coventry, Columbia, Lebanon, Hampton, Mansfield, Scotland, Willington and Windham.
A study, known as a “point in time count,” was completed by a group of volunteers as part of the application process for the two grants.
The study, first conducted in 2007, is done statewide with the goal of providing a snapshot of homelessness in each of Connecticut’s regions.
The WRCC group was sent out to five sites in the region on Jan. 27 to count the number of homeless people they encountered.
One site that was surveyed was the parking lot and field near Wal-Mart in North Windham.
Beadle, who headed the group conducting the survey, said Wal-Mart allows people to stay in cars on their property.
Other surveyed sites include along the Willimantic River and Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum on Bridge Street, behind New Alliance Bank at the East Brook Mall and Big Y, a field on Stearns Road, and a site on Mansfield Avenue.
In addition to surveying sites, the group also collected data from numerous shelters and support programs for the homeless, such as the Holy Family Home and Shelter on Jackson Street, various United Services locations, and the Windham No Freeze Hospitality Center on Main Street.
Results of the study were unveiled by Beadle Thursday morning. The study produced good and bad news.
“It’s a mixed report,” Beadle said.
Beadle was pleased to learn that of the 220 homeless people in the Windham region, 101 were in shelters and 115 were in support programs, with only four people outside.
Another piece of good news was that 115 homeless individuals were counted in assistance programs throughout the region, including programs at United Services, the Holy Family Home and Shelter and WRCC’s Project Home and Project Haven.
One item of bad news, however, was the number of homeless children in the region. The group counted 51 homeless children under the age of 18, an increase of 19 from the first year of the study in 2007.
Windham school administrators, including Superintendent Ana Ortiz, are involved in numerous programs to help homeless students in the district, Beadle said.
Beadle said it is a “major challenge” to help these students. He said Ortiz is currently working with 96 kids in the district.
“Obviously, there’s a lot more work to do,” Beadle said.
The number of homeless people increased from 128 to 220 from the 2007 to the 2011 study.
According to the Connecticut Coalition for Homelessness, there are approximately 4,154 people without homes on any given day in the state, including: 2,902 single adults, 430 families, 801 children in families and 18 unaccompanied youths.