Forum on Homelessness Monday, November 30,
2010 Rockville Church of the Nazarene
Task Force Meeting Monday, Jan., 10, 2011 @ 6:30 PM at VYSB Meeting Room
1st Task Force Meeting Dec 13, 2010
Vernon officials look into more ways to serve homeless
Posted: Tuesday, November 30, 2010 12:00 am | Updated: 4:57 pm, Tue Mar 5, 2013.
By Suzanne Carlson
VERNON — Community organizers came together Monday to discuss strategies to combat homelessness and marshal resources for those struggling with issues such as poverty, mental illness, and substance abuse.
Representatives from several volunteer organizations, faith-based groups, and town commissions gathered to discuss collaborative ways to fight homelessness. And Vernon Community Network president Alan Slobodien and fellow VCN forum organizer Bryan Flint said it’s time to stop talking and get to work on the perennially thorny issue.
“I believe we need to make concrete steps and we need to take action,” Slobodien said at the group’s first public forum, held at the Church of the Nazarene in the Rockville section of town.
“Are we the community helping them in the right way? The shelters can’t do it alone,”
Much of the discussion centered around the town’s two homeless shelters, Tri-Town Shelter Services at 93 East Main St., and Cornerstone Foundations Inc., at 15 Prospect St., which are also the only two homeless shelters in Tolland County.
Combined, the shelters provide a total of 30 beds. But Tri-Town executive director Pieter Nijssen said there are between 180 and 367 people per month who are referred elsewhere because local services are tapped out.
On a broader scale, Nijssen said that Connecticut’s 47 shelters only serve about 7 percent of the state’s homeless population, and community leaders need to decide whether to create more available beds, or restructure local social services to try to reduce the number of people who depend on shelters.
The problem has been compounded by the recent economy, which has dried up funding for shelters and other services such as counseling, while increasing the number of jobless and homeless people seeking help.
Despite intense scrutiny by groups such as the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, which publishes annual reports on shelter use and other statistics, even basic facts about homelessness are still in dispute.
For example, it is widely acknowledged that many homeless people turned away from shelters seek refuge in tent cities tucked into wooded areas.
But former Social Services director Paula Claydon disputed assertions that numerous people, including families, were living outdoors in tents. She said that while working with the federally funded “Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness” program, “we found one homeless person living in the woods and that was by choice.”
Claydon also highlighted the need for more support services to help those struggling with drug abuse, alcoholism, or mental illness, all of which contribute to homelessness.
“We don’t need another shelter, we need to have services available readily to these folks,” Claydon said, adding that Rockville General Hospital, where inebriated homeless are often referred, does not have a detox facility.
But Brian Hunter, a client of the Cornerstone shelter who credited it with helping him in his recovery from alcoholism, said there’s good reason that Claydon and other government officials don’t find more homeless living outdoors.
After losing his home in a fire, “I did end up in the woods of Rockville, living in a tent, like many people living out there,” Hunter said. “We don’t want to be found by the Vernon police, that’s why we hide so far out in the woods.”
Because both of the town’s shelters close during the day, Hunter said he and others were extremely grateful to Bev’s Place, a daytime drop-in center sponsored by Union Congregational Church.
Without Bev’s Place, “I surely would have froze to death,” Hunter said.
Fellow Cornerstone client Richard Robbins cited the economy as the reason for his homelessness. After working for 25 years, Robbins lost his job, and said age discrimination made it hard for him to find employment.
“Once you reach a certain point, it’s nearly impossible to get a job,” Robbins said.
For more information about VCN, including future forums and volunteer opportunities, contact President Alan Slobodien at 860-870-3557, or Bryan Flint at 860-875-1044.