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.”

Newman Center opens a food pantry for students in need

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Hard times call for a helping hand, which is why Western’s Newman Center opened a food pantry for students who have their student IDs on Thursdays from 3 – 5 p.m.

According to Father Jeff, the pantry has been servicing students for a month, and has already given over 75 bags. Volunteers at the Newman Club packed the bags for the first few weeks to establish a system that works. The Campus Ministries Office will extend volunteer work to the Greek Club, and other campus organizations in the near future.

Father JohnThe club offers free dinner to students every other Wednesday at 5 p.m. About 150 students show up for the homemade meals.

Michelle Hossan volunteers to cook the meals. Hossan has been working as business manager of the Newman Center for 10 years.

According to Hossan, the center is open to all students who want to hangout, watch TV or do their homework. Father Jeff is always there to talk to students when they feel overwhelmed.

“We’ve been here for a long time, and it’s not all religious. We do our religious stuff, but it’s mostly all for the students,” said Hossan.

Faith Jano is a freshman majoring in Biology, “I thought it was a really nice thing to do, all the things in the bag were the basic college necessities for the dorm,” said Jano, “I wish that they would advertise more. It seems that everyone finds out through word of mouth.”

 

 

Student Philanthropy Committee raises money for scholarships

Maria Langan | News Editor

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Spontaneous acts of love decked the halls of Western as the Student Philanthropy Committee raised a whopping $630 for scholarships last week.

Student Philanthropy is a committee under the Student Government Association (SGA) that was established last year by Louise Carrozza as a means to raise money for scholarships. Last week’s sale was the committee’s first Valentine fundraiser.
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The current chair, Ryan Hawley, said he has ambitious goals for this semester. He wants to re-instill Carrozza’s vision, and give back to students by the end of this year.

According to Jenna DiCiacco, a member of the committee, students showed appreciation for the fundraiser, and many generously donated even if they didn’t buy anything.

“It was a huge success overall,” said DiCiacco, “And it was made clear the profits are going to a great cause that could potentially benefit the buyer at the end of the semester.”

ryanalisonThe committee aims to give away a tuition scholarship. Otherwise, book scholarships will be dispersed as gift cards to Western’s book store.

According to Hawley, the committee’s 2nd annual Lip Sync is going to be a major upcoming event, whereupon the scholarship may be announced. The Lip Sync will feature awards, gift cards and refreshments.

“The vision is to let students know there’s a committee that’s looking out for them and their financial hardships,” said Hawley, “We’re just trying to give back to students, and instill hope so they won’t be worried about college.”

Karing for Kelly taps Western students to help organize annual car show on Main Street

1d7358_2f2cf0aa710143edaefe7417b1005e50Danbury got a nostalgic taste of its auto-racing history on Sunday, Sept. 27, as hundreds of people filled Main Street in support of Karing for Kelly’s annual car show. This year’s beneficiary of the fundraiser was Joe Archiere Jr., the sixth person in the world to be diagnosed with autoimmune cerebellitis.

The show boasted 300 cars, motorcycles and trucks, a dozen vendors, and numerous charity organizations. Main Street was blocked off from West to Wooster Street for five hours during the event.

George Korres, owner of Nico’s Pizza, started hosting car shows eight years ago to raise funds to help one child from the children’s hospital each year. Korres tapped Lew Lombardi, owner of Ultimate Restoration Auto Center, to help advertise and organize the annual event.

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The show included raffle prizes, and a competition with a panel of nine judges. Trophies were given to the top three winners of 21 classes of vehicles. 192 owners participated in the competition including residents from multiple states such as Maine, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont. The best of show winner was given to the Pennsylvania owner of a black ’57 Chevy.

Lombardi says he plans to host a bigger and better show each year, aspiring to involve Western students with future events.

“The car show is not only beneficial to the donees, but also to the local economy,” Lombardi said. “When you have a car show and nobody complains, you know you did a good job.”