Housing crisis

New funding keeps CT’s housing crisis hotline open on weekends

Connecticut’s housing crisis hotline will continue to provide live operators on weekends after the state provided it with additional funding, reversing a previous plan to cut service on Saturdays and Sundays.

The change follows a report by Hearst Connecticut Media Group about concerns over a proposal to cut hotline operating hours amid rising homelessness and calls to the hotline for help. to emergency housing.

But the new investment was about half of what was requested and not enough to keep the housing service open 24/7, according to United Way of Connecticut, which operates the 211 helpline funded by taxpayers on behalf of the state.

On Tuesday, it reduced its opening hours from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., seven days a week; the change will not affect non-housing services provided by 211.

The injection of state money may not last long. Lisa Tepper Bates, president and CEO of United Way of Connecticut, said 211 will have to reevaluate its housing crisis line staffing and hours in six months unless it can get more funding. .

“We are happy to be able to maintain service seven days a week, she said. “And we will continue to work with our partners to find the funding we need.”

In September, United Way of Connecticut wrote a letter to Gov. Ned Lamont and other state officials saying he should shut down the housing hotline on nights, weekends, and weekends. cold weather emergencies unless he can get $1.8 million in extra funding.

Last month, following questions from Hearst Connecticut Media, state officials said they had agreed to provide enough funds to keep the center staffed during cold weather emergencies. Later, state officials agreed to provide additional funds to help keep the service running during the day on weekends.

So far, the state has provided $975,000, or about 54% of the $1.8 million requested by 211.

“Ensuring access to housing is an administration priority, and we are engaging in ongoing conversations with United Way and community partners to effectively maximize our reach and help streamline access to services,” said Chris Collibee, gate-keeper. word of the Office of State Policy and Management. an email.

Since 2014, the 211 housing crisis line has been the primary entry point for services provided by a multitude of government agencies and nonprofit organizations across the state that work together in seven access networks regional coordinates, or CAN.

The housing line can immediately refer homeless people to an emergency shelter bed if one is available, but, for the most part, it is not designed to provide immediate access to services. The process usually involves setting up an appointment to meet with a social worker and getting on a waiting list for housing.

During the pandemic, demand for 211 housing services has skyrocketed from 93,283 in 2019 to an expected 157,848 this year, according to a presentation United Way gave to a group of service providers in July, including Hearst. got a copy.

Meanwhile, the number of homeless people in Connecticut has jumped 13% this year – the first time it has increased in nearly a decade.

Federal relief aid helped manage the surge in calls for some time. But that funding expired at the end of August, straining the service’s already meager resources.

During peak hours, 211 receives an average of nearly 50 housing crisis calls per hour. After the remaining funding for pandemic relief ran out, it only had the capacity to respond to eight calls per hour.

Growing demand and dwindling resources have resulted in long wait times or requiring callers to phone multiple times before they can make an appointment with a social worker, according to advocates and people who have used the service.

Aaron Turner, spokesperson for the Department of Housing, said the state is working with each CAN to set up physical “hubs” where people can access services directly and where 211 can refer people in need of help. immediate help.

“The goal is to provide additional access points to the homeless services system, reduce call volume and call time to allow more calls to be handled during peak hours,” Turner said in an email.