Catholic Charities connects the homeless to valuable resources

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Catholic Charities of Fairfield County is a one-stop shop for homeless people seeking services in the Danbury area.

Awilda Perez is an outreach worker for Catholic Charities homeless outreach services. She has been working the program for 11 years.

awilda-perezThe program provides outreach and engagement for individuals who are homeless. Most of Perez’s clients have some type of disabling condition.

Perez helps clients to access services in the community such as food stamps, Obama phone, employment, healthcare, transportation to medical appointments, applying for benefits such as SSI or SSCI, and housing applications.

Homeless outreach helps the chronically homeless to address barriers to housing such as mental illness, substance abuse or physical disabilities.

The program intakes 150-200 clients per year. Perez usually works with clients for six to eight months.

“I think it’s a great program. I think we have been a lot of help to many clients,” said Perez.
jamellefarmerJamelle Farmer is a housing case manager for the Connecticut Collaborative on Reentry (CCR), a program that provides housing vouchers to those who are diagnosed with mental illness, served multiple incarcerations, and are chronically homeless.

The intake for the program entails a long assessment process that takes about two hours. Applicants must provide extensive background information, and work with their case managers to develop a service plan with goals that must be achieved to better their situation.

Applicants are referred to CCR through the Department of Corrections (DOC) and the Housing Authority. Sex offenders are not permitted entry into the program.

Farmer has housed four people since the program was established in March of this year. Since the vouchers never expire, Farmer works with his clients for the rest of their lives or until they choose to leave the program.

If applicants are incarcerated for longer than 89 days while they are in the program, they may have their vouchers revoked.

“I love the program, and I think it’s really good. Especially with me being the case manager. I am very goal driven in trying to rehabilitate the people, and help them move past everything,” said Farmer.

“It’s a gift, it’s something I always had. Since I was younger I always wanted to help people so I do a lot of volunteer work in the community.”
sierrapepiSierra Pepi is the Program Coordinator for the Morning Glory Breakfast program and the Morning Glory Marketplace.

The Morning Glory Breakfast program delivers a hot meal seven days a week to the homeless and financially disadvantaged in Danbury.

The meals are held at the Dorothy Day Hospitality House from 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. Morning Glory tries to provide a healthy meal so they usually provide eggs, pancakes and foods with low fat or sugar.

The Morning Glory Marketplace is a non-food pantry, which offers cleaning supplies and hygiene products to those who are housed but are in need of assistance. The marketplace is held on the first and third Friday of each month from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the New Heights facility on West Street.

Supplies from the pantry as well as the food from the soup kitchen are donated. Pepi talks to schools, youth groups, and churches all year round to try to get people to donate to the program.

“We’re open to everybody, and that’s pretty much it. Everybody is welcome to come,” said Pepi.

Off the Streets houses the working homeless

 

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Many working people are homeless simply because they can’t come up with a security deposit. Off the Streets is a spin-off of the Dorothy Day House that was established to get people with a source of income out of the shelters and into housing.

The program was initiated by middle school students and has now boasts four chapters, two in Conn., one in Penn., and one in Calif.

In the eight years since the program was established, Off the Streets has helped 1,500 people get into housing.

According to the Administrator, Joe Simons, the program is constantly looking for ways to expand the operation because the concept can be applied in any community.

“It’s simply that there are a lot of people out there who are homeless, not because they don’t have income, but because they can’t get over the initial hurdle which is the security deposit,” said Simons.

“So we provide that, and also some furniture and basic household goods for when they move int because a lot of time when they move in they have nothing.”

The program collects furniture the first Saturday every month from 10 a.m. to Noon behind the First Methodist Church in Bethel.

Anybody who wants to donate small table and chairs, twin beds, chest of drawers and other basic necessities or money to help pay security deposits can visit the website at http://offthestreetsnow.com/ for contact information.

deacon-olesThe program’s founder, Deacon Mike Oles, was a volunteer at the Dorothy Day House who is often asked to speak about homelessness to religious education groups at middle schools. He brings homeless people to his sessions to add a face to the concept he is addressing.

During one of Oles’ sessions in Norwalk, the students were so taken by the homeless person who tagged along that they decided to take up a collection to get the man out of the shelter and into housing. The man was a hard worker who simply needed a security deposit.

Students continued pestering Deacon Oles about when he was going to get the man housed. At that time, Oles had mostly worked with people in the shelter, but had no experience with getting people housed.

Deacon Oles eventually used the money to pay the security deposit. And after that, another collection was taken, and another. Oles finally realized he could do this as a program, which turned into a separate mission from the Dorothy Day House.

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Susan Pagan got involved with Off the Streets due to  her platform in pageantry, which is centered on reaching out to the homeless, refugees, and those living in compromised conditions.

Pagan travels with her husband throughout the world on mission trips reaching out to those in need, but she wanted to do more. She was introduced to Off the Streets through a friend. After reading Oles’ book, she contacted him and they developed a plan to have her as a spokesperson for Off the Streets.

She recently shared her story at the Bridgeport chapter fundraising event on Oct.1, and also attended the Danbury chapter fundraising event on the same evening.

In the coming months, she will focus on trying to get more areas to sign on with chapters. Pagan is determined to travel and speak to congregations or groups of people to encourage them to start a chapter of Off the Streets in their own communities.

Pagan is passionate about helping those who are struggling with homelessness because she emerged from a similar situation where she did not have a place to call home for many years.

“I would like to tell readers that it is very simple to begin a chapter of Off the Streets in your own communities because it literally takes no money to start and there is no overhead, no employees, no office spaces, etc.,” said Pagan.

“Everyone and anyone can help, and finally… never take your home for granted.”

Western’s student nurses take on homelessness

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Western’s student nurses got a glimpse of what it’s like to be homeless at Danbury’s City Shelter on Thursday. The Community Health Nursing program exposes students to the full range of people they will encounter in healthcare. The program focuses on visiting nursing, which tackles the health of the community at large. Orientations include the City Shelter, rotations in schools, hospices, and the senior center.
nusreshlterShelter Program Coordinator, Mike Finn, began his introduction expounding the importance of treating homeless people like individuals by asking questions about how they are feeling and engaging in friendly conversation. He explained that homeless people are often ignored on the streets and treated as less than human. He then summarized his life at his dream job working for T.J.Maxx, and how it led to a more fulfilling job working at the shelter.

Finn went on to tell the story of a homeless man who Finn spent a lot of time talking to. When the man died, his sister came to Finn and told him that her brother spoke about him all the time because Finn was the only person who made him feel like a man. Finn said that’s why he makes sure everyone on his staff greets all their guests and talks to them in a friendly manner.

The students were then taken on a tour through the shelter. Finn explained the basic rules of the shelter, and precautions made to ensure no drugs or violence enter the building. He gave an overview of the services provided by the shelter to help people become independent members of society.
“Everybody ends up in hospitals whether they’re poor or rich. It’s important for us as nurses to understand where our patients are coming from, and what they have available to them, not everybody has the same things available to them,” said student Kyle O’Malley.

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“Pay it forward. You never know where you’re gonna end up. I think it’s a good idea. I think he gave a great overview of our community services, and I thought it worked well with the other agencies. It was pleasing for me,” said Assistant professor Patricia Cumella.

“I think we need to do more. Maybe just little things where you’re putting together toothbrushes, toothpaste, things that we wouldn’t normally think are that important. We should donate more or volunteer. Maybe put it around the campus how we can help,” said student Devyn Keller.

“I like how they have sort of a tiered system. First they pick up their lives, then they have an apartment that’s free, then after they’re employed they raise the rent incrementally because obviously those same resources need to go to somebody else,” said student Travis Maas.

“But I did notice that if one of the reasons you’re in the street is because you have an active substance abuse problem this isn’t gonna work out because you can’t be here.”

Danbury’s City Shelter Rehabilitates the Homeless

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Danbury’s City Shelter is more like a rehabilitation center than a place to rest one’s head. In comparison to other shelters in the area, which are solely focused on providing shelter for the night, the City Shelter offers a structured system of services to assist the process of recovering from homelessness.

According to Shelter Program Coordinator, Mike Finn, intake for the City Shelter is more extensive than other shelters. Chronically homeless people must go through the Coordinated Access Network (CAN) due to a statewide focus on getting them housed. All other applicants must get listed through 211.

 

bedsThe shelter then has its own intake, which asks for extensive background information including health history, education, work experience, criminal history, and veteran status. Finn said the purpose of the intake is to find out the strengths and weaknesses of the applicants so he can refer them to the resources necessary to improve their situation.

All shelters in the Danbury area allow a maximum amount of 30-days for time spent at a shelter. However, the City Shelter provides extensions for those who are either working, going to school or receiving help for their addiction.

The shelter coordinates with CT Works to help people find jobs and write resumes. A medical team and therapist comes to the shelter every Tuesday to offer services. MCCA offers an addiction recovery program during the weekend. Flu shots are provided during the flu season.

Other services that are extended to the homeless from other shelters include a place to stay from 9a.m. – 2 p.m., lunch held Mon-Fri at 12p.m., and showers.

“Danbury is one of the top areas in the state to serve homelessness. There are more services here than anywhere else,” said Finn.

kitchen“People are sent from 15 towns all around just to come here, and we have every service that they need. Sometimes we get too many people.”

Finn said for most of his life he was like everybody else. The only time he ever saw homeless people was when he stepped over them in Manhatten. One night he was walking down the street in Manhatten where a lot of people sleep on cardboard boxes, waiting for the breadline in the morning.

As he saw a homeless man approach, Finn turned to his brother and said, “Watch, he’s gonna ask you for money.” The man then approached Finn and said, “Do you have a spare ten dollars, I’m trying to get my swimming pool fixed?” Finn thought that was the funniest thing ever so he said, “Yes, you deserve the ten dollars.”

Finn thought about the man who had nothing, was about to sleep in a cardboard box, waiting for a bologna sandwich and a cup of coffee at six in the morning, but did not lose his sense of humor.

“I woke up that day. Everybody has some value in them. Homeless people are exactly that, people. Most people recognize them, don’t see them, don’t want to see them, don’t talk to them, go right by, and they’re like invisible to them,” said Finn.

“And that woke me up to people. From then on I would buy big bags of bagels, some with cream cheese, some with butter, and I would hand them out on the streets.”

Dorothy Day challenges homeless stereotypes

20160925_141609Wild accusations and ongoing legal disputes are no deterrents for over 30 organizations and churches that volunteer their time at Dorothy Day Hospitality House.

The recent zoning dispute that resulted in a cease-and-desist order against Dorothy Day has prompted a number of the shelter’s opponents to take to the op-ed section of Newstimes with disparaging comments referring to the homeless as “cockroaches and degenerates.”

Dorothy Day has been accused of allowing its guests to disrupt the neighborhood and litter the streets with paraphernalia. Opponents argue that the soup kitchen attracts the homeless from neighboring towns, thus increasing the homeless population in Danbury. Dorothy Day’s healthy financial balance of $750,000 is also scrutinized by opponents who suggest the shelter use the funds to move to a commercial location.

20160915_143454.jpgJoe Simon, treasurer at the Dorothy Day, proudly defends the program’s volunteers and practices. Simon said Dorothy Day volunteers have talked about moving the location, but the current location provides better access for their guests. In addition, Dorothy Day’s funding is put to better use through a program called Off The Streets, which placed over 100 homeless people into permanent housing last year.

All kitchen and shelter guests must sign a pledge to follow the rules. No person is admitted under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and guests are not permitted to congregate on Spring Street. Guests who do not follow the rules are banned from the kitchen and shelter.

According to the Point in Time Count conducted by Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, Danbury’s homeless population has steadily decreased since 2014. In 2016, there were 125 homeless people in the Danbury area, 176 in 2015, and 181 in 2014. Of the 125 homeless in 2016, 98 were single adults, 11 were adults with families, and 16 were children. 27 suffered from mental illness, 7 had substance abuse issues, and 16 were domestic abuse survivors.

Simon encouraged anybody who wants to better understand the homeless population to come in and volunteer. He said many people stereotype the homeless as being isolated and anti-social. People who are homeless don’t have a lot of physical possessions, or a house to go back to at the end of the day so it’s relationships with other people that are most important.

“And we try to reinforce that here by trying to be as personal as possible. One of the ways we do that is the way we serve meals in the kitchen. We don’t have people go through a cafeteria line. People come in for a meal, they sit down, and we wait on them,” said Simon.

“It’s the little things, we try to treat people as individuals, as people, and we think that really makes a difference. They are individuals and not faceless things. There is no one reason why people become homeless, and there is no one kind of homeless person.”

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James Russell has been volunteering at Dorothy Day’s soup kitchen one Sunday every month for 25 years. Russel said many believe that people who come to soup kitchens are either drug addicts, illegal immigrants or people with mental issues.

“Some of this is true, but it doesn’t apply to everyone. It’s my belief that it’s not their fault that they’re on the street. Difficult times call for extraordinary measures,” said Russell.

“The people here are good, kind-hearted people, and they’re very grateful. I don’t think in terms of stereotypes. A homeless person is my neighbor.”

Pete Lavelle is a volunteer from St. Peter’s Church in Danbury. He’s been volunteering at Dorothy Day for 15 years.

“People think that everybody who comes here is homeless, but they’re not. A lot of people work, but they just can’t make ends meat. There’s retired people who don’t have enough money to make it through the month,” said Lavelle.

“We’re helping people get through life who don’t have enough to do that. I’m not sure how you can complain about that.”

Dorothy Day zoning dispute continues

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The fight is on to save the Dorothy Day homeless shelter from a cease-and-desist order that was issued by the Zoning Board of Appeals at Danbury’s City Hall on Aug. 25.

Zoning Enforcement officer Sean Hearty issued the cease-and-desist order in July 2015 on grounds that the shelter has operated illegally since 1985 and needs a “special exception” to be considered legal.

Attorney Neil Marcus, representing Dorothy Day Hospitality House, argued that since Dorothy Day predates the 2014 special exception clause, the shelter is exempt from regulation and should be grandfathered in.

Marcus has not only vowed to appeal the decision to Superior Court, but has also sued the Planning Commission in attempt to force the panel to hold a hearing to exempt Dorothy Day from a special exception.

Joe Simon, a volunteer and treasurer at Dorothy Day said the shelter is still open and will remain open during the appeal.

“We’re still open, we’re still serving people in need. That’s our main focus, helping people,” said Simon.

Pinwheels for Prevention raises awareness about child abuse and neglect

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Sparkling blue oases of hope are scattered throughout Downtown Danbury to raise awareness for Child Abuse Prevention Month. Families Network of Western CT sponsored the event, along with an up and coming luncheon at the Matrix Conference and Banquet Center on April 28 to further delve into the successes and challenges of ending child abuse and maltreatment.

pinwheelsAccording to Susan Giglio, Executive Director of Families Network, Pinwheels for Prevention is a national campaign created by Prevent Child Abuse America (PCA) as seen on Good Morning America.

The goal of the campaign is to engage people in taking ordinary actions, “extraordinary actions” as PCA calls it, to help reduce stress for families and increase resilience for kids. Such actions include things like calling or writing legislators or community leaders to support parenting programs or offering to babysit for a stressed parent or neighbor.

“The pinwheel represents the carefree, healthy and safe childhood that every child deserves.  There’s so many ways for individuals to get involved,” said Giglio.

“If we work together to make a small difference, not just throughout the month of April but everyday, we can create the kind of world where all children have the great childhood that they deserve and abuse and neglect never happens,” she added.

pinwheels2According to a press release from Families Network, the primary prevention focus is to educate and engage families before a crisis occurs. Through a number of multi-faceted and collaborative strategies, the network ensures safe, healthy environments for children. Families Network works to create positive, lasting changes through public awareness activities, direct services to families, volunteer training, and commitment to partnering with community and business leaders, social service agencies, and health and education providers.

“Parenting is difficult.  Programs like our home visiting and parent education groups, mutual self-help support, community health & mental health services, support services for new mothers, sexual abuse prevention programs, substance abuse treatment, and expanding affordable and safe childcare all play a role in the prevention of child abuse and neglect,” said Giglio.

20160419_175505To help raise awareness for their work to prevent child abuse, Families Network is holding its annual Dr. Robert C. and Nancy Joy Luncheon on April 28th from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Matrix Conference and Banquet Center. As part of “Pinwheels for Prevention” and Volunteer Appreciation Month, Families Network will be recognizing its exceptional volunteers.

Tickets to the banquet are $35. Those who don’t have the money can request to be sponsored so they can attend the event for free. For a ticket, sponsorship or in-line donation contact Families Network at (203) 791-8773 or visit the website www.fnwc.org.

According to Giglio, Western sponsored a Pinwheel Garden a few years ago through a sorority focusing on child abuse prevention. WXCI has also shown support through Public Services Announcements and radio interview spots.

“We’re looking for any way at all to continue to partner with the student body at WestConn,” said Giglio, “We have internship opportunities, and we’re always looking for volunteers for special projects.”

Students get messy at Tie-Dye with Show Choir

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Students took a break from their busy schedules to get messy at Tie-Dye with Show Choir on Thursday.

signal-2016-04-14-144134[1]Clarence Pacete is a Junior majoring in Social Work. Pacete is President of  the Show Choir, a club at Western that invites anybody who want to sing to join and have fun.

The club performed at Relay for Life on Friday with Drum Circle. They also perform at the Coffee House.

“Tie-Dye with Show Choir is a fun event where anyone can bring a t-shirt, socks, underwear or anything that is white and have fun being messy,” said Pacete.

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Emily Romero is a Sophomore majoring in Math.

“A lot of us don’t know how to tie-dye, so that’s what’s nice about it. We’re here just to make mistakes because I know we can’t really make mistakes in class,” said Romero.

“We can just make a mess and have some fun. Hopefully, next year we can get some handkerchiefs and have people tie-dye handkerchiefs,” she added.

Jimmy Gillis is a Freshman majoring in Computer Science.

“It’s just a little thing for fun. We all have that end of semester stress by now, and it’s good to have a little stress reliever just for fun,” said Gillis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Western hosts a Community Service Fair

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Western students were encouraged to roll up their sleeves and get in the habit of volunteering at the Community Service Fair on April 6.

Becky Antonaccio organized the event. The purpose of the event was to bring organizations together, and get more students involved with volunteering.

“Volunteering is important because it provides hands on experience. When you volunteer for an organization you can develop an internship or job,” said Antonaccio, “When you tell the organizations your major, they will find a job that will fit you.”

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The Youth Volunteer Corps of United Way engages youth from diverse backgrounds in service projects.

According to Casey Lavene, students can go to uwwesternct.org to search for volunteering opportunities from numerous organizations throughout the community.

“People who are looking for volunteer opportunities can look up an event or an organization they’re interested in, and find what they need at just one site,” said Lavene.

“Volunteering offers the opportunity for people who maybe don’t have a particular skill set to help build that skill set, and make them a little more marketable,” she added.

Morgan Greening said,  “We do a lot of service learning with our youth volunteers, and we teach them youth employment skills, organization, being on time, compassion and empathy.”

20160406_125936Jericho Partnership Inc. is a broad Christian based social service organization. According to Michael Ronan, Director of Operations,  Jericho is in need of mentors and tutors for after school programs on an ongoing basis, bilingual translators for the clinic, volunteers for the overnight shelter, drivers, cooks, and reading buddies.

Grace Manne, Administrative Coordinator, said Jericho also hosts social-work internships, and internships at the summer camp for at-risk children. Students can sign up for volunteering opportunities and the Jericho newsletter at JerichoPartnership.org.

“Volunteering is a great opportunity to get a very broad range of experiences,” said Manne.

20160406_132840 - CopyAnimal Assisted Therapy Services (AATS) offers opportunities for volunteers to help train therapeutic horses and therapy dogs. The programs offers therapy for paralysis, multiple sclerosis, motor skills, speech and cognitive reasoning, autism, down syndrome, substance abuse, traumatic brain injury, or amputation.

According to Ryan Murphy, a volunteer at Western, volunteers can help with farm clean up days, which are one day events; and volunteer programs in the spring and the fall, which run for about six weeks. AATS seeks commitment for the whole six weeks because consistency is important for kids. Students can sign up at AnimalAssistedTherapyServices.org.

“Volunteers learn how to work with kids with different disabilities, and they also learn how to work safely around horses and other animals,” said Murphy, “We don’t need any experience with horses or other experience working with kids.”

20160406_132349Anne’s Place is a community based cancer support center that supports anybody who has been diagnosed with cancer as well as their loved ones. The services are provided at no charge.

According to Lynn Stubbe, a volunteer, Anne’s Place uses volunteers for all sorts of opportunities such as events, fundraising, office work, groundskeeping, reception, reiki, yoga, wellness, support groups, and committee work. Volunteers can request information at AnnesPlace.org.

20160406_131741 - CopyThe City Center of Danbury is the downtown business improvement district, focusing on economic vitality of Main Street and overall revitalization. According to P.J. Prunty, Executive Director, the goal is to bring businesses downtown and have them prosper.

City Center currently focuses on events such as the Summer Concert Series, which is capped off with a marquee event called the Taste of Danbury. Prunty’s focus for attending the fair was to inform students how to sign up for a mailing list at CityCenter.com to be reminded of upcoming events in Danbury.

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The Pratt Nature Center is a 205 acre nature center New Milford featuring hiking trails, summer camps, education vegetable garden, and a greenhouse.

According to Diane Swanson, the center offers volunteering opportunities for events such as Earth Day and an annual auction as well as weekly volunteering, which involves working with farm animals, trail work, and vegetable gardening. The center is also looking for two paid staff members.

Students can apply for paid or volunteer opportunities by emailing Diane or Haily at PrattCenter.org.

20160406_131409 - CopyThe Women’s Center offers direct service volunteering, which mean volunteers act as staff members, manning the hotline when paid staff members are unavailable. Volunteers answer distress calls during nights, weekends, and holidays. Sometimes the volunteers will make hospital, police or school visits acting as staff counselors.

Students who are interested can fill out an application at wcogd.org. Applicants will go through a rigorous 44 hour state mandated training to be a staff counselor.

The Women’s Center hosts Step Up against sexual assault

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The Women’s Center celebrated Sexual Awareness Month with its annual Step Up event on Wednesday.

According to Director of Training and Outreach, Ann Rodwell-Lawton, the event is meant to raise awareness about sexual assault while giving students the opportunity to voice their opinions on sexual assault.

“The event has a message of prevention, consent, and respect. And we also make sure that victims know they are not alone, and it’s not their fault,” said Rodwell-Lawton.

20160406_134102 - CopyAccording to Melissa O’Connor, Campus Counselor Advocate, one in four women, two in five gay men, and one in six men overall are victims of sexual assault. She insists that students have the power to stop sexual assault.

“It’s not only on the victim, but everyone else in the community to also take part in ending sexual violence by stepping up against it,” said O’Conner.

Naiesha Jean-Claude, a Senior majoring in Psychology says, “Everyone should be informed that it’s not alright. Everyone has their choices. They should stick with their guts,” said Jean-Claude.

“If something is not right, they should walk away and say no. And we should just respect each other,” she added.

Austin Mckinley, a student at Western, says “No means no!”