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Homeless Program Gaining Momentum

The mayor’s taskforce to end homelessness, “Building Hope Together”—formerly known as “The Mayor’s Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness”—has been working hard to snuff out vagrancy, and get at its root causes.

The plan, which got started under Mayor Timothy Stewart, is now in its seventh year and its goals focus on three areas (and each has its own corresponding subcommittee): residence retention, employment and mental health & awareness.

“The mayor has been meeting and bringing together providers and folks like EMS, fire, HOCC, police and others to the same table to move along the work plan and revise/update based on the needs of our city’s homeless population,” explained Zeena Tawfik, Acting Administrator in the Community Services Department, of the plan, which is called “Building Hope Together: New Britain’s Permanent Workplan to End Homelessness.”

“Through the plan we have identified the need for and set up training and workshops through CT Mental Health Associates to help local residents and business owners [and] employees in the downtown area become better prepared to handle issues which arise as a result of one losing housing or having difficulty dealing with the underlying issues or root of the majority of homeless cases,” noted Tawfik.

“These mental health and substance abuse first aid trainings are called Community Awareness Program (CAP) and TiPs training for interventional procedures for bar staff and package stores,” said Tawfik.

Tawfik is a member of the Building Hope Together (BHT) taskforce (and the mental health and wellness subcommittee) and she detailed the three areas of the plan in a recent chat with The City Journal.

“There is a committee that deals with employment, a committee that deals with housing, and a committee that used to be prevention with regards to housing, but now it’s the prevention in wellness and mental health issues,” she said. “So we have Connecticut Mental Health Associates part of that committee, and I actually am on that committee with my background [as a clinical psychologist], and we try to come up with ways to deal with the root of the problem with many of our homeless.”

The Building Hope Together Executive Committee is also composed of Mayor Stewart, Chairman Greg Howey, BHT Coordinator Mary Floyd, and Treasurer Robin Sharp of the YWCA. The BHT taskforce also includes representatives from the Friendship Center, City Council, New Britain Housing Authority and the Chamber of Commerce among others.

“Having folks on these committees as part of the work plan who have the background and knowledge to move these issues to the forefront—and working as a unit to build hope together by giving folks a ‘hand up’—is the vision the mayor has and would like to continue to foster,” said Tawfik.

So far, the community response to BHT’s efforts has been impressive. “We have seen a great response from local residents, nonprofit organizations, schools, and faith based groups” who have stepped up “to assist with volunteer time, donating food and clothing and money, especially through the winter months to our seasonal cold shelter,” said Tawfik. “The mayor herself had a fundraiser at a local eatery, Westside Tavern, and helped raise funds towards our plan.”

The housing subcommittee has been meeting to look for sites around the city in neighborhoods that “would be appropriate to revitalize and build affordable units thorough grants that would be sought through state funds,” said Tawfik.

“The employment committee has been working on collecting the numbers of folks seeking employment and working with those who are in need of resources necessary to become employable [to] reintroduce themselves into the workforce with a stronger chance of employment,” said Tawfik. “Employers are sought that are willing to work with newly employable residents and assist with normal impediments.”

Tawfik added that state funding for homeless needs have been cut and are “down to zero dollars.”

“Although the Connecticut Department of Housing and Connecticut Coalition on Ending Homelessness, as well as TD Bank Foundation funds, were sought and received for this past cold season, we continue to look for ways to support this work plan,” said Tawfik.

An annual fundraising gala and awards dinner is being planned for the fall to raise funds for more programs and to “thank and honor those who have really given back to the less fortunate in our community,” explained Tawfik.

Residents who want to get involved with putting an end to homelessness in the city are encouraged to advocate (call state and federal delegations to advocate for increased mental health funds); volunteer (call a local shelter or non profit to offer help), or donate (checks can be made payable to “Building Hope Together – YWCA” and mailed to YWCA New Britain, 22 Glen St., New Britain, CT 06051).

BHT last met on May 18 and will meet again this fall, on Sept. 21 in the mayor’s conference room in City Hall.