Northwest Corner Homeless Find their Gathering Place
Amid the historic buildings, antique colonial and comfortable contemporary homes that dapple the rolling hills of the Northwest Corner, are less visible “homes,” makeshift residences and sleeping nooks where members of our community—those living in a state of chronic homelessness—hide away from the cold and the wind. Some are homeless as a result of a struggle with opioid addiction, some with untreated mental or physical medical conditions, many because they cannot afford to pay for housing, food, and medication on a minimum-wage salary.
No Place to Go
In 2011, there were 156 homeless people in Litchfield County, 30 percent of them chronically homeless, meaning they had experienced homelessness four or more times in three years. These members of our community, including veterans, and single-parents with young children, hunkered down in tents in the woods close to town or “couch surfed,” staying with friends for a night and then moving on. With no place to go during the day to escape the elements, they gathered at libraries, coffee shops, and businesses to stay warm.
“There was no central daytime location to find homeless individuals and families and no central location for them to get help,” said Nancy Cannavo, of Charlotte Hungerford Hospital and New Beginnings of Northwest Hills Litchfield County.
“Once the local shelters were closed each morning, those who had stayed there the night before left for the day, and it was not feasible for service providers to work nights when those needing shelter returned.”
Services providers, including social services, mental and physical health services, job-placement and housing-assistance programs that worked to help the homeless, were spread throughout Northwest Corner towns. Many experiencing or at risk for homelessness did not know where to look for help, and service providers often had difficulty finding and keeping in touch with those who could benefit from their services.
New Beginnings of Northwest Hills Litchfield County, a collaborative of more than 30 social service agencies, set out to change that. In September 2013, after having collaborated with the Northwest CT Community Foundation to research and write The Plan to End Homelessness in Northwest Connecticut, a report that presents a roadmap for an integrated and strategic approach to ending homelessness systemically by creating a series of goals and objectives that address prevention, housing, services and employment, Nancy Cannavo reached out the Community Foundation.
New Beginnings of Northwest Hills Litchfield County requested a grant to purchase and renovate a building in Torrington to serve as a hub for individuals and families experiencing or at risk of homelessness, a one-stop shop, where those experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness could come and connect with all of the service providers that could help them.
Through a $165,000 grant from NCCF Draper Foundation Fund, New Beginnings purchased and renovated a building at 21 Prospect Street A in Torrington.
With additional grants from the Northwest CT Community Foundation Draper Foundation Fund, the Marion Wm. & Alice Edwards Fund and the Northwest Connecticut Philanthropy Fund that supported operational costs and addressed fire codes, the Gathering Place was up and running. Since opening on April 29, 2015, service providers have helped hundreds of individuals receive the services they need and transition into permanent housing, including 12 individuals who had been living in camping tents in the woods near Main St. in Torrington.
In 2019 and 2020, the Draper Foundation Fund, the Khurshed Bhumgara Fund, and the Northwest Corner Gives: Covid-19 Rapid Response Fund provided grants to the Gathering Place for operating expenses, furniture needs, first aid and cold weather needs, electrical renovation needs, and office supplies.
The Way Home
The Gathering Place provides one-stop access to service providers, where individuals and families learn what services they qualify for, and depending on their needs, find shelter at FISH/Friends in Service to Humanity of Northwest Connecticut or the Northwest Connecticut YMCA Winchester Emergency Shelter, apply for housing assistance, and SNAP benefits and/or receive referrals for mental health, substance abuse or medical services.
They can also work on résumés, shower, wash clothes, get a haircut and receive job-appropriate clothing. Service providers hold coordinated meetings at the facility and are able to meet with clients in a central location that is easily accessible.
“We see a lot of people who are working and just can’t afford to pay to rent,” said Nancy. "Those who seek help at the Gathering Place often have suffered financial losses."
One recent client, came to the Gathering Place struggling to pay rent and purchase food for her and her children.
After making several late rent payments, she was evicted from her apartment. She set up a tent in the woods, the only place she could stay that would be close enough for her to walk to work.
Gathering Place service providers were able to help her garner enough resources to put together a security deposit for an apartment near her employer. She and her children are now doing very well