County officials applaud collaborative Decades to Doorways initiative
By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times
For nearly 10 years, 77-year-old Pedro lived in the Kennett Square shadows: hidden in a ramshackle, makeshift structure he called home. Twenty years earlier, a series of painful personal circumstances had resulted in the loss of his job in the agriculture industry – and his residence, county officials said.
On Thursday, Nov. 22, he was applauded as one of the success stories of Decades to Doorways, the county’s ambitious 10-year plan for getting people into permanent housing as quickly as possible and intervening before homelessness occurs. The initiative connected Pedro to an array of available services, eventually leading him to a secure apartment in the Kennett area.
County administrators, employees, service providers, business partners, volunteers, and others gathered at the Chester County Historical Society to celebrate the accomplishments of the first year and to recognize some of the key people who made it possible.
The goal of the program – to prevent and end homelessness – arose from troubling statistics, county officials said. Last year, numbers compiled in one the wealthiest counties in the country showed that 582 people, including children, were residing in emergency shelters or temporary housing and 43 were unsheltered on the day of an annual count used to assess the scope of the program.
Such figures reinforce the need to address the problem, said Chester County Commissioner Terence Farrell. In the county, about 325 children in Chester County experience homelessness each year,and on any given day in Chester County, 70,000 people are food insecure and 13,000 children go to bed hungry, he said.
Studies throughout the country have shown that focusing on permanency with appropriate supportive services is more cost-effective than keeping people in shelters. Achieving that goal requires the kind of collaboration that has occurred this past year, said Michael Hackman, the administrator of Decades to Doorways.
One of many examples of that approach is Chester County’s Homeless Coordinated Assessment System, “ConnectPoints,” which features contact numbers, including a website address and a toll-free number, for anyone seeking emergency shelter or housing services in the county. The system cuts through bureaucracy by giving callers information about all available services, said Heather N. Charboneau, who runs ConnectPoints. Previously, no one resource had connections to multiple service providers, she said.
Hackman said the Decade to Doorways Leadership Consortium was proud to present its first annual Community and Corporate Partner Awards. These awards will be presented each year to community and corporate partners that exemplify the spirit of engagement, collaboration and good will in the effort to prevent and end homelessness in Chester County.
Three organizations – Kennett Area Community Services; Open Hearth, Inc.; and Community, Youth and Women’s Alliance – received the 2013 Decade to Doorways Community Partnership Award. And Bentley Systems, Inc., an Exton-based infrastructure software company, received the 2013 Decade to Doorways Corporate Partner of the Year Award.
Hackman said that while he was pleased with the accomplishments so far, much more work remains. He encouraged those present to educate others about what it means to be homeless in Chester County and what they can do to be part of the solution.