When Seasons Change: A Tribute to Barbara Geller

A few months back, we paid tribute to Barbara Geller, then retiring as the long-time Director of the Statewide Services Division within the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS).

We don’t often publicize retirements, but Barbara was a special consideration. To us and many others, an exceptional person.

For more than 20 years, she had been a partner with CSH and a dedicated champion of programs meeting the diverse, unique mental health and addiction services needs of her state’s most vulnerable people, including those facing homelessness and other forms of housing instability.

We knew her passion, wisdom, the quality of her efforts, and the extent of her good works. She amazed us with her foresight and impact. Innovative, tireless and cheerful, her mission mattered to her and those she reached.

In her role at DMHAS, Barbara was one of the original leaders of the movement to establish supportive housing as the solution for chronic homelessness in Connecticut. She was instrumental in establishing Connecticut’s Harvard Ash Institute award-winning supportive housing funders collaborative, and helped ensure that DMHAS contributed state dollars for services in supportive housing year after year. Under her leadership, roughly 5,000 units of supportive housing were created statewide.

A visionary, Barbara also helped advance housing first and supportive housing as a solution to some of Connecticut’s most complex problems such as how to better serve super-utilizers of costly crisis and emergency care. She always emphasized long-term, lasting solutions over short-term gains.

Barbara was a vanguard among state behavioral health officials‎ in seeing housing as critical to the mission of behavioral health agencies, even at a time when this nexus was not as accepted as it is today.

Her work not only improved the lives of many individuals and families in her own state, she is regarded as a national leader and true advocate for those most in need.

Barbara really cared about the people she served. She was more than a friend to supportive housing; she was one of those rare human beings who gave her heart and soul to making a difference for the thousands who benefitted from her drive and advocacy.

So when we learned this week that Barbara had passed from this life, our hearts were filled with deep sadness.

Our spirits, however, are lifted in the knowledge that she succeeded in building better lives for all around her and those she touched.

We are reminded that for everything there is a season.

We take great pride in having known and worked with Barbara, and in calling her our friend, and even greater comfort in knowing she lived every season to the fullest – leaving behind an incredible legacy of purpose and accomplishment transcending her time with us and the boundaries of her beloved State of Connecticut.


Barbara’s lifetime of achievement is conveyed in her biography, published when she received a CSH Champion Award in 2014.

At the service honoring her life, Barbara was described as a “Woman of Valor” as conveyed in this poetic passage.

CT Ends Chronic Homelessness Among Veterans

CT VASenBCSH is present at today’s ceremony where Governor Dannel P. Malloy is announcing that the State of Connecticut has been designated by the federal government as being the first state in the nation to have ended chronic homelessness among veterans.

Last year, Governor Malloy announced several initiatives aimed at combatting veteran homelessness with the goal of ending homelessness among veterans by the end of 2015.  The state has since made major investments in housing, including supportive housing, becoming a national leader for its work.

Ending chronic homelessness among veterans is a milestone for Connecticut in its efforts to end homelessness entirely among veterans by the end of the year.  Connecticut is one of just a handful of states designated for, and participating in, the Zero:2016 initiative, which aims to end all chronic homelessness by the end of next year.  Today’s announcement means that all known veterans experiencing chronic homelessness are either housed or are on an immediate path to permanent housing, and that the state will be able to rapidly place any veteran who newly experiences chronic homelessness on the path to permanent housing.

Full Press Release Here

Today’s announcement was held at Victory Gardens, a CSH funded supportive housing project in Newington, Connecticut.



From Advocacy to Planning to Action: Connecticut’s Plan to Prevent and End Youth Homelessness

youth TAYConnecticut, like many other states, is not a place where homeless/unstably-housed youth and young adults are highly visible. As a result, advocacy for additional supports and services for these youth and young adults was historically plagued by several questions:

  • How many youth and young adults in Connecticut experience homelessness, and how can we find out since so many try to stay under the radar and avoid system involvement?
  • Who are these youth and how do we house them?
  • Why can’t the child welfare system serve them to ensure they’re not living in places that make them more vulnerable?

We soon realized that Connecticut required a more comprehensive approach to systemically address the needs of, and barriers faced by, these youth and young adults.

The Homeless Youth Workgroup of Connecticut’s Reaching Home Campaign, an effort to prevent and end homelessness that was modeled after the federal Opening Doors plan, spent most of 2014 in a planning process to create a roadmap addressing housing, data, and supports/services for youth and young adults. Through the work of three subgroups, and with the generous support of the Melville Charitable Trust, a consultant was hired to oversee and manage the planning process. The result – Opening Doors for Youth: An action plan to provide all Connecticut youth and young adults with safe, stable homes and opportunities – a blueprint to help us move from single issue advocacy to a multi-layered systemic approach.

The Action Plan includes five main strategies plus two over-arching tactics to oversee the work. These include strategies to:

  • Create better tools to identify, screen, and refer youth in need
  • Expand direct services along the housing continuum
  • Address the training and technical assistance needs of providers
  • Improve data collection; and advocate for changes in policy

The Workgroup successfully advocated for a Statewide Housing Services Coordinator for Youth to oversee and manage much of the work tied to the strategies. Coordination through a Funding and Transparency Mechanism is in the planning stages to ensure less fragmentation of current services to youth and young adults who are homeless and unstably housed in Connecticut.

Additionally, some aspects of the Action Plan have already been addressed:

  • The first-ever statewide homeless youth count  occurred in January
  • In 2014 the legislature reinstated funding to begin to address the crisis response needs of youth on their own
  • CSH assisted in the development of a model for a pilot program to address the housing needs of youth who require supportive housing.

For more information about Connecticut’s Action Plan on homelessness among youth and young adults, please contact Stacey Violante Cote at sviolante@kidscounsel.org.

Special thanks to Stacey Violante Cote of the Center for Children’s Advocacy in Connecticut for authoring and contributing to this piece.

Working With Aging Tenants In Supportive Housing: Connecticut Providers

It’s a fact none of us can escape and we’re told we should embrace: we all grow older. But when you’re facing homelessness, aging becomes a much harder reality and often adds significantly to the challenges of surviving on the streets every day.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless (2009): “Definitions of aged status in the homeless vary from study to study. However, there is a growing consensus that persons aged 50 and over should be included in the ‘older homeless’ category. Homeless persons aged 50-65 frequently fall between the cracks of governmental safety nets: while not technically old enough to qualify for Medicare, their physical health, assaulted by poor nutrition and severe living conditions, may resemble that of a 70-year-old.”

Compared to the general population, residents in supportive housing who are aging in place also have issues we must consider such as facility accommodations and changing service needs.

As a result of the extensive work of the Connecticut Supportive Housing Quality Initiative Supervisors’ Learning Collaborative – and with the support of the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, Housing Innovations and CSH – a comprehensive guidance document has been developed to assist providers: Working With Aging Tenants In Supportive Housing: Connecticut Providers.

While this document was developed specifically for and by supportive housing providers in Connecticut, it can be adapted for other states or communities. This guidance document provides the following resources developed to assist supportive housing providers deliver optimal services to aging supportive housing tenants and older persons entering supportive housing in Connecticut:

  • Checklist: Agency Competencies for Working With Aging Tenants in Supportive Housing
  • Resource Guide for Agencies Working With Aging Tenants in Supportive Housing
  • Resource Template for Agencies Working With Aging Tenants in Supportive Housing
  • Training Framework for Direct Care Staff Working With Aging Tenants in Supportive Housing 
  • Checklist: When Someone Dies in DMHAS-funded Supportive Housing in Connecticut 
  • Job description for Direct Care Staff Working With Aging Tenants in Supportive Housing

CSH is available to help you with your questions and training needs related to this document and tenants aging in supportive housing. Please contact us at info@csh.org 

Access the full guidance document here.

OSF Grants $150,000 to CSH for FUSE Replication

OSFThe Open Society Foundations (OSF) U.S. Programs initiative supports efforts to advance equality, fairness, and justice with a focus on the most vulnerable and marginalized communities and the most significant threats to open society in the United States today. OSF works to further a vibrant democratic society in which all people can meaningfully participate in its civic, economic, and political life and to ensure that the core institutions of civil society are effective and accountable to the public.

Areas of particular emphasis in U.S. Programs’ grant-making and other activities include:

  • The advancement of effective and fair criminal justice and drug policies,
  • Support of the rights of racial minorities and other vulnerable groups;
  • Support of institutions and practices that advance a more informed and engaged public and responsive and effective government.

OSF’s recent contribution of $150,000 to CSH to promote a scaled replication and the sustainability of the FUSE (Frequent Users/Utilizers Systems Engagement) model will help ensure that more people leaving our jails and prisons will have a real chance to become a part of the communities in which they live. Because of the generosity of OSF and others, CSH is able to recreate FUSE in more communities across the country.

FUSE is a CSH signature accomplishment that helps communities identify and engage high utilizers of public systems and place them into supportive housing in order to break the cycle of repeated use of costly crisis services, shelters, and the criminal justice system. In the FUSE model, supportive housing serves to smooth the transition from institution to community, promoting a transformation that serves those released from jails and prisons, and the general population, by improving lives and public safety.

The critical support of OSF and our partners will allow CSH to aggressively pursue our vision to create additional policy and resource tools, such as FUSE, that encourage cross-system collaboration and allow innovative responses to complex social problems.


CSH Helps Cambridge MA Address Homelessness

“We’re working to develop a set of recommendations on what we can actually do about homelessness,” Ellen Semonoff told a gathering of about 20 people at the Cambridge Community Center Thursday evening, June 25. Ms. Semonoff is Assistant City Manager for the City of Cambridge’s Department of Human Service Programs.

The meeting was the second of two held last week that are part of a CSH process called a charrette, a multi-stage community effort to gather opinions and recommendations about a single issue from people who have a stake in the outcome. In this case the stakeholders include residents, consultants, City officials and staff as well as people experiencing homelessness and those who work with them.

The earlier of the two meetings was at noon on Wednesday, June 24. The organizer for both events was Shelly Chevalier, Planning and Development Manager for the Cambridge Department of Human Service Programs. The charrette process is part of a collaborative effort launched by the City to create a plan for addressing homelessness, she said; participants include multiple local government departments, nonprofit partners, and the Cambridge Homeless Continuum of Care.

“We get it,” Ms. Chevalier noted at Thursday’s meeting. “We have to try and do things differently, and it requires pushing beyond what we know.”

Leadership for the project is organized through a 15-member Charrette Steering Committee composed of representatives from a cross-section of community organizations.

Acting as moderator Thursday evening was Larry Oaks, CSH director in New England. CSH promotes supportive housing as a way of addressing chronic societal problems and is the facilitator for the City’s planning process, according to Ms. Chevalier.

Mr. Oaks introduced two participants in the evening’s discussions, both of them members of the Charrette Steering Committee:
–Sean Terry of the New England Center for Veterans described the organization’s housing services and its work with homeless veterans.
–Liz Mengers of the Cambridge Department of Human Services noted that this is the second month of the “brainstorming” process and said that further discussions during the summer will be followed by another round of meetings in September.

“This meeting is part of a larger city planning process,” Oaks said. “Our mission is to make sure that issues relating to housing and homelessness remain front and center in that process.”


CMS Issues Bulletin on Using Medicaid for Supportive Services

CMSThe Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services (CMCS) has released an Informational Bulletin intended to assist states in designing Medicaid benefits, and to clarify the circumstances under which Medicaid reimburses for certain housing-related activities, with the goal of promoting community integration for individuals with disabilities, older adults needing long term services and supports (LTSS), and those experiencing chronic homelessness. Consistent with statute, CMS/CMCS can assist states with coverage of certain housing-related activities and services.

Read the full CMS/CMCS Informational Bulletin here.

For more information on how states are currently using Medicaid in supportive housing, see CSH’s four new resources, released earlier this month.

Read our joint statement with the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the Technical Assistance Collaborative and the National Health Care for the Homeless Council.

OrgCode, Community Solutions & CSH Launch Next Step Tool for Youth

The Next Step Tool for Homeless Youth

The Next Step Tool for Homeless Youth, or Next Step Tool, integrates the TAY Triage Tool, developed by the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH) through research by Eric Rice, PhD, Associate Professor at University of Southern California, with the VI-SPDAT, created by Community Solutions and OrgCode Consulting, Inc.

The TAY Triage Tool predicts which youth are most likely to experience long-term homelessness, essentially on a trajectory to becoming chronically homeless adults. The VI-SPDAT helps understand current vulnerabilities and risks to future housing stability, in order to support youth in ending their homelessness.

The Next Step Tool carefully merges all of these tested ideas together. Through a closed-ended survey where youth provide a yes, no or one-word answer, service providers have a better understanding of the intensity of supports to begin with when supporting the youth.  You can download the Next Step Tool at http://www.orgcode.com/product/vi-spdat/


The Youth SPDAT

To complement the launch of the Next Step Tool, OrgCode has also created a modified version of the Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool (SPDAT) for use specifically with youth. The Youth SPDAT was developed based on feedback from many communities using the SPDAT who identified the need for a complete assessment tool that emphasized the unique issues faced by homeless youth.

You can download the Youth SPDAT at http://www.orgcode.com/product/spdat/


CSH Transition Age Youth (TAY) Triage Tool

The CSH Transition Age Youth (TAY) Triage Tool – A Tool to Identify Homeless Transition Age Youth Most in Need of Supportive Housing – can be accessed directly here.


Harvard Releases State of the Nation’s Housing 2015

The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University has released The State of the Nation’s Housing 2015 and this is what it says about our PROGRESS IN REDUCING HOMELESSNESS and the role supportive housing is playing, effectively getting people off our streets and keeping them housed:

“The lack of affordable housing in the United States continues to leave nearly 600,000 people homeless. More than a third are people in families, including 130,000 children under the age of 18. By comparison, chronically homeless individuals (those who have been without a place to live for at least a year or have had repeated episodes of homelessness over the past few years) account for a much smaller share (15 percent) of the homeless population. Recent increases in federal funding have aided progress in reducing both homelessness overall and among the most vulnerable groups. Indeed, the number of beds in permanent supportive housing expanded 60 percent between 2007 and 2014, to over 300,000. Beds for the chronically homeless accounted for just over half of this increase. As a result, total homelessness fell 11 percent in 2007–14, the number of homeless veterans dropped 19 percent, and the number of chronically homeless individuals was down by 30 percent. At the same time, however, the number of homeless people in families declined by only 8 percent.

But the national reduction in homelessness is not apparent in all markets. Rising rents and a dwindling supply of affordable rentals continue to put people at risk, especially in high-cost locations. Indeed, total homelessness jumped by 29 percent in New York and 40 percent in Massachusetts between 2007 and 2014. The increase in the District of Columbia was even larger, at 46 percent. Family homelessness is particularly acute in major cities, which were home to 45 percent of this population in 2014. New York City headed the list with 41,600 homeless people in families, or nearly 20 percent of the national total.”