The mission of Opening Doors Fairfield County is to prevent and end homelessness in Fairfield County.

The Solution

ODFC is ending homelessness through an emergency response system that prioritizes our community’s most vulnerable population and connects them to the most appropriate housing option. As a result, Fairfield County is seeing a significant decrease in chronic homelessness.

The Problem

Although Fairfield County is home to some of the wealthiest communities in the country, homelessness is still a reality for many residents. At this moment in time, in Fairfield County, there are 1,013 people experiencing homelessness, which includes 781 adults and 232 children.

31 Families Headed by Adult 18-24 Years Old
(Source: Point-in-Time Count 2016)

Decrease in Chronic Homelessness
(Source: Point-in-Time Count 2016)

A Story of System Change



Opening Doors Fairfield County Hosts Advancing Equity Conference

 New Canaan, CT – On Tuesday, October 30th, Opening Doors Fairfield County (ODFC) hosted “Advancing Equity,” a conference to catalyze system-wide dialogue on racial equity as a collective response to homelessness and housing solutions. Held on the scenic grounds of Grace Farms, the event featured two national experts on the topic of racial equity - Jeff Olivet, Principal at jo consulting and Regina Cannon, Chief Equity and Impact Officer with the Center for Social Innovation(C4).

 Speaking from the stage of the Sanctuary to an audience of over 200 participants, Olivet and Cannon painted a journey to racial equity by first reminding guests that Grace Farms is built on land stolen from Native Americans. From the Indian Removal Act, slave trade, Chinese immigration, and Japanese internment, to intentional efforts to prevent wealth generation for people of color, Olivet and Cannon emphasized the need to dismantle and disrupt systems that historically created race inequities. To this end, a quote from W.E.B. Du Bois was flashed on double screens, on a stage, that read “A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect.”

 Line charts highlighted the stark inequities, in Connecticut, where people of color, who make up just 12% of the general population, comprise 50% of the homeless population, a ratio of over 4:1. Discussion from the audience on combating these ratios included action on the very systems that create racial inequities including legal, criminal justice, education, employment, housing, and health. Cannon commented to the audience that we should use “Racial Equity as a North Star, understanding the fierce urgency of now, for every day we wait, another inequity occurs.”

 Olivet and Cannon led the audience through an exercise to reimagine racial equity in Connecticut: “Where race no longer determines one’s economic outcome, that’s the kind of Connecticut we would like to live in. Where those most impacted by structural racial inequity are meaningfully involved in the creation and implementation of the institutional policies and practices that impact their lives,” said Cannon.

The talk was followed by a panel discussion of local experts on racial equity including Juanita James, President and CEO of Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, Mia Bryant of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, Finn Darby-Hudgens from the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, Jacqueline Rabe Thomas of the Connecticut Mirror, and Cesar Aleman of Re–Center. Discussions included efforts to diversify staff and boards of directors, using data as driver of change, zoning regulations that perpetuate segregation, and ways of using spheres of influence to make an impact.

The event received high marks from attending participants for addressing racial equity. As Carla Miklos, Co-Chair of ODFC explained, “Jeff and Regina led us through this sensitive and important topic with great skill, allowing all who participated an opportunity to better understand the systemic causes and effects of racial inequity. They encouraged us to let this knowledge inform our work as we continue to reverse the damage done while we create a more just environment for those we serve. They, and the panel, shared experience and information generously and I believe everyone who attend was inspired to act.”

Pamela Ralston, Director of ODFC, is focused on next steps. “This event is serving as a platform for ODFC to implement strategies for recruitment, hiring and promotion to positions of leadership using a lens of inclusivity, and equity and diversity throughout our agencies. ODFC will also use this information to design a more equitable delivery system and continue to identify, analyze, and address racial disparities in housing and homelessness.” 

DMHAS Learning Collaborative: The Power of Collaboration Employment Series 

On Tuesday, September 12th, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services hosted a learning collaborative, on employment, that was led by Carl Palmer, a Bridgeport Housing First Case Manager. The agenda for the event included discussing the following: (a) barriers and benefits for clients seeking employment; (b) strategies for clients to search for employment; (c) application and job interviewing tips for clients; (d) what should be discussed; and (e) networking with support. Palmer asserted that some of the barriers to employment that stand out to clients include: attitude, age, criminal record, disabilities, drug and/or abuse, education, employer biases, housing issues and homelessness, job search skills, a lack of basic and employable skills, limited English proficiency, long-term welfare recipient, mental illness, childcare assistance, no transportation, gaps in employment and pressure from others to go to work. In spite of some of these barriers to employment, there are significant benefits to being employed. Clients can obtain stable employment if they assess the type of support they will need, prior to obtaining employment. 

There are significant benefits to being employed. However, clients should realize that looking for a new job requires work. In order to secure a job, clients should compile their work history, write a resume, submit a paper or electronic application and have an interview. Clients should prepare for interview questions they might be asked, as well as disclose information that is important for the employer to know when it is related to effectively performing tasks assigned to the job, if hired. Clients with a criminal history should let the employer know if they have a criminal history if they are asked about this. Interviewers usually want interviewees to be honest and open when asked about a criminal history. An employer may choose to give a person a job because he/she was honest about a sensitive topic. 

Networking is important when seeking employment. Clients should ask people in their inner circle if they know of anyone hiring. Clients may attend the American Job Center, a local library or utilize job boards for networking opportunities. 

Helpful tips for clients seeking employment: 

·      Create an online profile on websites such as Indeed or Snag a Job

·      Attend free classes at the American Job Center

·      Utilize free online career assessment tools

·      Seek support from individuals that want you to succeed in your search for employment. 

Although clients might have challenges when seeking employment. Many challenges to employment can be overcome with support, resources, networking gainful employment can be obtained. 

100 Day Challenge to Prevent and End Youth Homelessness

Data from the 2019 Youth Count estimated that there are 1,559 homeless and unstably housed youth and young adults in Fairfield County at any given time. Four hundred and forty of these youth are literally homeless. Literally homeless youth live on streets or in shelters. Fairfield County is one of eight regions participating in the 100 Day Challenge to prevent and end youth homelessness across the state.  The purpose of the 100 Day Challenge is to help catalyze community action in order to build a systematic response to a significant community problem. The short timeline is intentional, inviting a cross-sector of partners from each community, to generate urgency and action.  What makes this effort unique is that people on the frontlines and youth with lived experience of homelessness are empowered to make decisions and remove barriers in order to advance the goal of ending youth homelessness. With support from the Rapid Results Institute, the process will provide our community with the opportunity to understand and learn about our current system and pursue ambitious 100 Day goals that unleash intense collaboration, innovation, and execution.

 At the launch of the 100 Day Challenge, on May 2nd, the 100 Day Challenge Team set a goal to safely and stably house or divert seventy-five young adults over the course of 100 days.An additional goal that 50% of the young adults who are housed through this effort will be employed or actively engaged in an employment or educational program was also set. The 100 Day Challenge Team has developed relationships with providers that serve homeless youth, such as community colleges, public school systems, and Court Support Services. They have implemented protocol to minimize barriers to housing for youth experiencing homelessness and they have developed strategies to ensure these changes to the system are sustainable. To date, fifty-four young adults have been housed or diverted from homelessness. Forty-three percent of these young adults were connected to an employment or educational program. In addition to the fifty-four young adults that have been housed or diverted, four young adults are already connected to a housing resource and are currently in the process of searching for an apartment and signing a lease.

 The 100 Day Challenge ends on Friday, August 9, 2019. The System Leaders and 100 Day Challenge Team are planning an event to celebrate their successes, discuss progress, and share information about the important system changes that have been implemented. We invite you to join us to hear about this incredible campaign and the amazing work that has been done, as well as the work ahead in our efforts to end youth homelessness, in Fairfield County. The event will be held on August 15th, from 3pm - 5pm at Housatonic Community College, Beacon Hall, Rm. 214, 900 Lafayette Boulevard. For more information please contact: Lisa Bahadosingh, Director of Youth Initiatives and Special Projects, Supportive Housing Works, at 203-767-0787.  

Opening Doors Fairfield County Coordinating Council

 On Tuesday, June 25th, Opening Doors Fairfield County Coordinating Council met to discuss facilitating integration between behavioral health and the homeless service system. The meeting comprised of panel members from Norwalk Hospital, Pacific House, Partnership for Strong Communities, Recovery Network of Programs and CASA. Panelists discussed some of the challenges and successes their organizations have had, in regards to serving the homeless population, and working towards preventing and ending homelessness, in Fairfield County. Many panelists discussed how they have been working towards addressing substance abuse and mental illness challenges that many of their clients deal with. Panelists communicated that in order to address the needs of their clients, organizations should work together collaboratively and in non-traditional ways. This is evident where new health care efforts, in Connecticut, are aligning for integration. Panelists also argued that service providers should have the capacity to serve people as soon as they declare they are ready to be served. In conclusion, the Coordinating Council discussed thinking about clients holistically. Service providers should have a system where they can utilize data across multiple systems, especially as it relates to finding multi-system and high frequency users. 

Lisa Bahadosingh Receives Diversity Award from The WorkPlace

Lisa Bahadosingh, the Director of Youth Initiatives and Special Projects, at Supportive Housing Works, recently received a Diversity Award, from The WorkPlace, in June 2019.

The WorkPlace conducts comprehensive planning and coordinates regional workforce development policy and programs to prepare people for careers while strengthening the workforce for employers. As a national leader in the field, The WorkPlace regularly shares ideas and best practices with lawmakers, foundations, think tanks, and other workforce development organizations around the country.

Each year, outstanding students, graduates, employers, volunteers, and professionals from programs that The WorkPlace administers across southwestern Connecticut are acknowledged for their accomplishments. The intent of the awards ceremony is to recognize personal achievements and people whose life accomplishments may go unrecognized. Awardees include individuals who have graduated from WorkPlace programs and now serve as positive role models, employers and businesses that support efforts to promote diversity and lifelong learning, volunteers who dedicate themselves to workforce development programming, and professionals who help to motivate and empower clients.