NEW HAVEN – For 30 years, Life Haven has been opening its doors to serve homeless women and children; but never has the shelter been in more demand than now.
“It’s the place between the streets and having a roof over your head,” said Mary Grande, community relations specialist for Life Haven.
“A lot of people are close to poverty in Connecticut,” she said. “Few people have the six months of emergency reserves suggested by financial experts.”
With 20 units for women with children, Life Haven is New Haven’s largest provider of temporary shelter for women and families with small children. “We’re the only women and family shelter in New Haven,” she said.
Located in the former convent at St. Francis Parish, Life Haven opened in 1985. In 2014 alone, it housed 130 families including more than 150 children. Last winter, families found sleeping on cold porches were led to Life Haven for shelter.
In addition to Life Haven, New Reach operates CareWays with 10 units for women with children; and Martha’s Place with three units for women with children and 18 units for single women. Dads and boys 18 and over stay in a shelter for men.
According to Leanne Brewer, shelter manager, clients access emergency housing by calling 211 to connect with a statewide coordinated access network where representatives assess need against availability. If a shelter is needed, the client meets with the staff member to complete paperwork and be assigned a shelter or be placed on a wait list.
Upon arriving at Life Haven, clients are assigned rooms fitted with cribs for babies or toddler beds. Within a week, the family meets with a case manager to assess needs and assist with issues including housing, employment, health insurance and budgeting.
Families participate in weekly house meetings and are offered the resources of other community agencies, clothing and furniture services, life skills development, and individual assessment and case planning. They receive three meals a day, including seasonal menus and special dinners. The site is fully staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Children participate in activities, including arts, crafts, gardening, homework help and a wellness curriculum.
“It’s a length-of-stay shelter,” meaning people are never turned out into the streets, explained Mrs. Grande. The average stay, she said, is three months, with about 20 to 25 percent of clients leaving in the first two weeks after finding other lodging and 35 to 40 percent staying three months.
If they still need assistance, they can be offered affordable housing with case management support, giving them time to build up reserves before moving to a fair-market apartment.
“It’s sad to see,” admits Ms. Brewer. “But it’s very empowering to know that you’ve helped families move out and see their kids excited.”
A nonprofit with an annual budget of $775,000, Life Haven is funded by grants, but needs to raise an additional $265,000 every year.
It is supported by the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal, along with the Knights of Columbus, the Greater New Haven Catholic Charity League and numerous other groups, businesses, churches and schools.
“It’s a great way to continue the mission of the church by assisting those in need,” said Mrs. Grande, a member of St. Mary Parish in Branford.
“We want to make sure that the women and children who stay at Life Haven are surrounded by people who care about them, but who are also there to empower them to take control of their lives and move on,” she said.
“This is always done with compassion and professionalism,” she added. “We want to create a culture and environment where our residents feel supported and can reach their goals.”
The annual “Summer on the Sound” barbecue buffet to benefit Life Haven will be held on Aug. 13 at the Owenego Inn in Branford. Tickets cost $50. For information, call Mary Grande at 203-492-4866, ext. 36.
It is estimated that in the United States, as many as 3.5 million people are homeless in a year, and more than half of the homeless are said to be families with children.
Reasons for the slide into homelessness range from tragic life occurrences such as the unexpected loss of a job, apartment or transportation, to illness, eviction, new resident relocation, fire, domestic violence, abuse and divorce.
The goal is to help parents and families in crisis get back on their feet. Almost 63 percent of families entering Life Haven move into permanent housing in the community.
“Emergency shelters are a critical entry point to help women re-establish their lives,” said Mrs. Grande. Families enter emergency shelters that provide transitional housing and services, such as job training, social skills training and financial training that enable parents to regain employment and return to mainstreamed lives.
For people living close to or below the level of poverty, any sudden change in everyday life can put them on the streets. In New Haven, caseworkers are noticing a new homeless population – seniors and college students with children.
“It’s very hard for families,” said Mrs. Grande. “Connecticut is an expensive state.
“Fifty percent of jobs in the state pay less than $20 an hour,” she said, “and you need to make at least $25 an hour to earn at a fair-market-value level for a fair-market apartment.”