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Veterans Only Bright Spot in Connecticut Homeless Report

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August 10, 2011

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - The latest "Point in Time" survey of Connecticut's homeless residents contained much bad news - but also an important piece of good news - about veterans.

In odd calendar years, the survey counts homeless individuals and families in Connecticut who are living outside of shelters, in addition to its annual count of those inside shelters. In all categories but one, the numbers were worse this year.

The survey is always scheduled for the end of January, says Alison Cunningham, executive director of Columbus House, a shelter and service provider in New Haven, and this year volunteers were clambering over huge snowdrifts to do the count.

"We did not expect to find so many people outside because of that. But we identified, still, people who told us they'd been living in abandoned buildings, and in tents, and in their cars."

Volunteers found nearly 700 persons statewide in such locations this year, an increase of 38 percent over 2009. The number of homeless children in shelters rose 16 percent in one year.

Meanwhile, the number of homeless veterans dropped by 15 percent - and Cunningham says there's a reason.

"When we target specific populations with very intensive resources, that's where we're making a difference. Certainly with the veterans, that is true."

She says there's been a significant increase in transitional housing for veterans and also in housing subsidies for veterans to move into permanent supportive housing.

Another key factor, she says, has been growing partnerships between public-housing authorities and private nonprofits.

"Those kinds of partnerships, the commitment from the governor, hopefully new resources from the feds - those are the kinds of things that are going to help us beat this problem, but the flip side of that is, the demand is increasing despite our efforts, because of the economy."

An alarming 37 percent of Connecticut's parents counted in shelters and on the streets said domestic violence directly contributed to their homelessness.

Cunningham is a board member of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, which conducts the survey every year.

Melinda Tuhus/Dallas Heltzell, Public News Service - CT