He’s in a paint-splattered shirt and cargo shorts, feet clad in work boots, hopping into a white cargo van with his 5-year-old son, Jordan. The van is emblazoned with his company’s logo: Imperial Wall & Floor Covering. This is Jerome C. Richardson, Jr: father of two, motivated, hardworking small-business owner, and employer of six people.
One month ago, he was homeless.
“It can happen to anyone,” he says. “It can happen to the best. It doesn’t discriminate. It’s not always about drugs or alcohol. I’m drug free, alcohol free; I run my own business. And I still wound up homeless.”
That’s all behind him now, thanks to a new approach to reducing homelessness. The idea is to get newly homeless people back into stable housing as soon as possible. It’s called “rapid re-housing.” And as Richardson’s story attests, it’s working.
“Ninety-six percent of people in New Haven who have received rapid re-housing dollars have not returned to homelessness,” says Amy Cassavina Hall, vice president of Income and Health Initiatives at United Way of Greater New Haven. “If you target the right people and give them small amounts of dollars, they don’t need to return to shelters. And that keeps shelters open for families who really need them.”
The recession has been particularly hard on families. Since many homeless families
end up staying with friends and family, it is difficult to define the scope of the problem. Nevertheless, New Haven’s family emergency shelter providers are reporting a doubling of requests for shelter services as compared to what they experienced before the economic downturn.
United Way of Greater New Haven is working with local and regional partners toward the federal goal of ending homelessness for single individuals in the next four years and for families in the next nine. From 2011 to 2013, UWGNH invested $1,048,000 in housing services. And $350,000 of that has gone to rapidly re-housing 267 households (individuals and families) living in shelters.
For people who have always maintained housing, a short term injection of cash, perhaps a security deposit and a few months rent, could mean the difference between a singular brush with homelessness and a chronic, long-term issue.
Take Richardson. His story is unique to his own circumstances, but shares a similar spiral with many individuals and families who end up without a place to live.
A year ago, Richardson decided to expand his contracting business with a storefront in Preston. Shortly after investing in the storefront, he started divorce proceedings.
“It really drained my finances,” he says. “All of a sudden, I was struggling.”
He took Jordan, leaving a newborn baby girl with his wife, and moved to an apartment in New Haven. A few months later, his landlord was foreclosed on (he wasn’t paying his mortgage), and Jerome and Jordan were unexpectedly evicted. Father and son bounced around, staying with friends, with Jerome’s father, even in the hallway of the apartment building some nights when they couldn’t find another place to go.
Eventually Jerome turned to shelters, but had little luck as a single man with a child.
“There are shelters for men, women, women with kids, shelters for families,” he says. But for a man with a child? “I couldn’t find anything.”
Finally, a bed opened up at a shelter in Waterbury.
“We went there and it was like a dungeon. I was grateful, of course. But it was dark, no windows. Stuffy little room, mildew up to here in the bathrooms,” he says, hand waist high.
Jerome and Jordan found their way to the Spooner House shelter in Shelton, where he says he felt safer and more respected. It’s there that he got hooked up with Carlos.
Carlos is Carlos Gonzalez, who works at New Haven Home Recovery on the Connecticut Rapid Re-housing Program.
Gonzalez helped Jerome with the paperwork and provided the financial support to get him started: first and last months’ rent and a security deposit.
“Sometimes things can move quickly,” Gonzalez says. “That’s not always the case, but this was easy. Motivation, determination. He has a lot of it. I think we housed him within a week or two.”
Jerome nods. “I was determined to get in [to an apartment]. The money was important. But the emotional support, the understanding, was even more important. I didn’t get the cold shoulder from Carlos; I got a smile. You automatically throw a wall up after bad experiences. I had that wall up. But after a couple conversations, the wall came down, and there was good communication.”
Jerome and Jordan are now fully moved into a three-bedroom place with a big, fenced in backyard for their German Shepherd, Solomon. They’ll stay in touch with New Haven Home Recovery through a social worker for a period of up to a year, in case any more support is needed. But for now, Jerome says they’ll be fine.
“It was okay during the period of homelessness because I knew that tomorrow was another day. Yes, now I have a place, but that doesn’t make it okay automatically. I have to make it okay. But I feel more at peace now.”
“I’m glad I am where I’m at now. I’m glad I’m able to provide my son with a stable home environment. It’s a good feeling that he can lay his head down at night in his own bed.”
Above photo by Uma Ramiah. Click through here for the web story.