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December 15, 2023 28 mins
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Welcome the Pulse of the Region,brought to you by the Metro Hertford Alliance.
The Metro Hertford Alliance collaborates with investorsand partners to elevate the Hartford region
through economic development work, convening thecommunity around shared challenges, and providing local
chamber support. Learn more about theirmission and how to get involved at Metrohartford
dot com. Pulse of the Regionis produced in partnership with OKILL. Originally

founded as a school for the blindin eighteen ninety three, OKILL has provided
holistic, person centered services for individualswith disabilities for over one hundred and thirty
years. With empowerment and independence asits guiding principles, OKILL works in partnership
with the individuals it serves to provideresidential education and enrichment opportunities. Learn more
at okillct dot org. Now here'syour host for Pulse of the Region,

Kate Balman. Hello and welcome toPulse of the Region, the show where
we spotlight all of the great thingshappening throughout our Hertford Region. I'm your
host, Kate Bauman, thrilled tohave you here with us today. Today
we are getting the Pulse about waysour community can support the United Ways rapid
response fun this holiday season, socertainly a very important topic. And with

that, we have three fantastic guestswho are I'm lucky to have here in
studio and either looking at me,I either know if they're nervous about me
or excited to be here, butI think very excited. Our first guest
is actually a returning guest to Pulseof the Region. He is the President
and CEO of the United Way ofCentral and Northeastern Connecticut. Eric Harrison,
So, Eric, welcome back tothe show. Thanks for having me,

of course, of course. Andnext is she is with hands On Hartford.
She's the director of Homeless Prevention andOutreach. Stephanie Boyce. Stephanie,
welcome to Pulse of the Region.Thank you, happy to be here.
Good, No, we're happy tohave you. And last, but certainly
not least with the town of Vernon. He is the Department the director of
the Department of Social Services. MatthewHellman. So, Matthew, welcome to

the show. Oh, thanks forhaving me. I'm excited, not nervous.
Okay, good, Yeah, that'sgood. I needed that energy.
Thank you so much for that Mattfantastic. Well, first things first,
always love on the show to givejust some brief introductions about each of you,
each of your organizations. So Eric, since you're the returning guest,
we'll put you on the hot seatfirst if you don't mind, and just
you know, many of our listenersknow about the United Way, but if

you can give us a high levelreminder about kind of who you are and
what you guys do here in ourregion, Yeah, happy to you,
you know, And I always missionis to engage and bring together people in
resources, and I think you know, what we're going to talk about today
is just a great demonstration of that, both with our partners in the community
and also municipality. So looking forwardto the discussion. Definitely no excited to
see kind of how those all thosepartnerships work together. And Stephanie hands On

Hertford a great partner with the MetroHertford Alliance in addition to the United Way.
So thrilled to have you here,and if you don't mind sharing with
people about hands On Hertford. Yeah. So we're a nonprofit that's been an
existence for I believe over fifty fouryears now here in Hertford and our partner
and our mission is in partnership withothers to strengthen community in Hartford by responding
faithfully to people in need through programsthat change lives and renew human possibility.

Fantastic and can you mention your restauranttoo, because it's one of my favorites
here in Hertford, I think alittle hit in gym for some people.
Yes. So we do have arestaurant. It's called Gather fifty five.
We are open from nine am totwo pm Monday through Thursday, and it's
our participation model, so folks cancome in, they can donate a minimum

donation towards their meal. Folks canalso volunteer for their meal and our goal
is to really allow folks to havea restaurant quality meal regardless of the ability
to pay. We also have anevening restaurant which is open Wednesday through Saturday,
where we have local celebrity Hertford,well Connecticut chefs come in and help

put together a menu for a monthout of time and a certain percentage of
seats every night. The reservations isreserved for folks who cannot afford to pay.
The prefix Rice it's absolutely incredible.The food is I mean, you're
getting the top chefs around Connecticut.It's always different, always a great experience.
So yes, and our goal withthe Evening restaurant is to really bring

funds in to help support all ofour programs. Okay, fantastic, And
they have great scones if you gothere during the day, just a little
hidden gem. So I have notbeen over there during the day, So
okay, Eric, you get acoffee scone that's meant. Yeah, great,
I'm so excited how much I loveScones. Fantastic. Well, certainly,

last, but not least, Mattthe town of Vernon. I'm sure
we don't need a description about melmaybe actually about the town if you'd like
to give us a little overview,and then certainly would love to hear about
your role within the town. Surewell, I mean in terms of Vernon,
it's kind of sits between the biggercities of Hartford and West Hartford and
then the smaller towns to the east. So it's in a i would say

unique position. We have some ofthe big town problems, but some of
the small town advantages too, andso I think what Vernon does well the
administration is really try to bring somecreative approaches to challenges. Like with COVID,
we did clinics where we were givingpeople rides. You know, our
COVID clinic was kind of well recognizedthroughout the region as being a leader in

terms of social services. We assistincome eligible residents, seniors, disabled with
energy assistance, housing needs. Likemany towns throughout Connecticut, we're administering programs
that are helping our citizens. Fantastic, well and excited today. I think

it's so important to me. Ilove we have, you know, a
town, we have a nonprofit workingwith another nonprofit and really just looking at
that partnership. And really the goalof today's show is to kind of,
you know, highlight a lot ofthe work that you're doing and also see
too, how can our business communityreally help. So excited to dive into
the conversation. And you know,Eric, what we really wanted to touch
on here today is the Rapid ResponseFund, which was recently activated by the

United Way to address current housing andhomelessness emergency here in our state. So,
first off, if you could talkabout the program, that'd be fantastic.
Yeah, you know, unfortunately we'reseeing arise in homelessness in Connecticut,
and this has happened, you know, since last year, and you know,
you see it in the news overand over, and we want to
be responsive. We wanted to takeaction immediately. We have funding that addresses

basic needs, and so we said, you know what, why don't we
use this to you know, createa very unique initiative here before the holidays.
So we're really excited about it.You know, we have our trusted
community partners that can continue to tellus what those challenges are. There's actually
been a thirteen percent increase in homelessnessrecently, and between September and October this

year, there's been a disturbing twentypercent increase in elderly homeless. So that's
just it's just it's just really heartbreakingto think about that, especially around the
holidays. But we also know thatoutside of you know, the Greater State,
our coordinate access networks have have seenthat thirteen hundred individuals slept outside last

night. So that's just something thatwe can't live with that number. We
want to be able to address itand address it quickly, and we're able
to do that when we have thistype of partnership or we have municipalities that
are on the ground that are dealingwith people within their community. We have
our organizations like Hands on Hartford thatare addressing it day in and day out.
So actually, earlier this month wehad Governor and Lamont come out to

our building as well as the LieutenantGovernor, and we had community partners,
including Barbershaw who's one of the cochairs of the Hartford Regional Coordinate Access Network,
to launch this fund. And Ithink it was a great demonstration of
public and private philanthropy coming together.Fantastic. And I don't know, Eric,
if you can touch on this orseventy maybe we have a time into

you know, the numbers you mentioned, you know, thirteen percent increase overall,
twenty percent increase in homelessness and elders. Is there kind of specific factors
leading towards this or anything that youguys are hearing from partners or seeing yourselves.
I think what I can say whatI'm seeing from our homeless outreach team
is, you know, elderly whoare entering into homelessness, they can no

longer afford rents, they don't haveany support systems here in the States,
and you know, it is reallychallenging. Right, It's sad. Sometimes
the work is really heartbreaking, butit is true. Right, We're seeing
an increase in folks sixty and olderentering into homelessness for the first time.
So I think having these rapid responsefunds is really crucial to ensuring that folks

who are entering homelessness we can hopefullyget them housed a little quicker, fantastic,
and I think it really just echoesthat the face of homelessness can be
anyone here. You can be oneor two paychecks away from homelessness. And
just goes back to what we workon every year with our let's report that
we have forty percent of households inConnecticut are actually struggling to get by.

So you know what Stephanie just mentioned, you know, just just one car
repair or utility bill or getting behindon rent. We don't want those factors
to contribute to someone going into homelessnessthis winter. Definitely. Now, how
does the program work here in termsof you know, if someone does need
the resources, then you know what'skind of the outreach and then what's the
process that they'll go through from there. Yeah, I'm going to actually I'll

turn it to Matt on this thisand in terms of how that worked,
in terms of the municipality, theyyou know that they submit a request to
us and then he can just kindof walk through the sort of the card
system that goes out perfect. That'dbe great. Yeah, well, I
guess I would say it's an easyprocess to start with righted Way has done
a really good job of making itstreamline. They rely on the municipalities to

identify the individuals or families in need. They trust that the funds will be
used for or what they're stated for. There are some safeguards built in with
the funding so that they're not usedfor a couple of improper reasons, but
generally it's not a labor process whereit's a huge questionnaire. We do the

work, we identify the individuals,it's a few questions that they fill out.
They get to then select a cardto be mailed to them or electronically
accessed, and it's pretty much thatsimple. Okay, that very simple.
And have you seen what is theimpact you've seen thus far in the town
of Ernin. Yeah. So wehave three cases, two cards that we've

given out already, one more thatwe'll be looking to give out next week.
In two of the situations, itwas a parent who was employed.
Going back to the point about alice, I mean these are so alice a
l ice asset, limited income constrained, limited income constrained, and employed,

so working poverty, all right.So these are not families who are not
trying to make it. It's justthey're not making enough to survive. The
difference between the poverty level and thesubsistence. The subsistence level the amount needed
to really live. You talked aboutcar repairs or medical bills, you know,

whatever it is that some of ustake for granted we just cover,
is a hardship for them. Sothese two cases, we had parents who
are working, had family members getsick child. The other one was a
spouse. They had to take timeoff of work to care for their family
members, and they lost their income. And that lost income then translates to

getting behind on rent, getting behindon utility bills. So for these two
families, the five hundred dollars thateach of them got from the United Way
helped to offset that rent that theyweren't able to pay because they were had
lost income. And the third familywas a family was dislocated because of some

damage that occurred in the apartment.They had to go to a hotel for
a short stay. The money helpedpay for the hotel. So it's those
unexpected circumstances or costs that arise thatfor these families, these families that are
on fixed income, and their rentsare going up. You know, we

talk about we see it in Vernon, we know it's going across Connecticut.
Rents are being raised, not onlytens of dollars, hundreds, hundreds of
dollars, and someone on a fixedincome, it's just sometimes not doable and
that can ultimately tumble down into asituation of homelessness, particularly for seniors.

As was noted, Oh, thankyou so much for sharing that insight there.
I think it's so important and Stephaniewould welcome for you to chime into
if you have, you know,kind of what you're hearing from some of
your clients, if there's any examplesthat you could share as well. Yes,
I you know, we do hearvery similar stories, especially through our
Basic Needs program where we do right. We're able to help with security,

deposit, rental, utilities, education, employment, and there has been such
an increased need over this past severalyears. We are getting hundreds of calls
every week for folks looking for assistance, and you know, we do have
limited funding and we're not always ableto help everyone. So I think having

these funds allows us to better meetthe need of the community. Right.
But again to Matt's point, yetwe have rising housing costs. Folks who
on EFICS income, who may haveSection eight and they have to move,
well, they now have to comeup with over three thousand dollars for a
security deposit. Right that's and buthow do we how do we meet that

need? So I definitely think we'rejust seeing some more challenging times for the
folks that live here in the state. Definitely. And now you talked about
your basic Needs program, could youshare a little bit more about that and
give us an idea of really,how many people are you serving here?
Oh goodness, we Oh my goodness, we serve hundreds oks. We are

very fortunate to be able to havepartnerships with some of the churches in Hartford
who provide some private funding for usto be able to you know, provide
that security deposit, that rental assistance. We're also on Operation Fuel Bank.
Well, I didn't know that.Yes, during the seasons, we're able

to schedule appointments and meet with folksto provide that assistance as well. Okay,
yeah, and we look to seeis there if someone really has a
need, are there other funds?Are there other agencies that can also assist
us individual perfect? So now areyou working kind of similar as Matt.
You know, we're to helping toidentify families that this is the right fit
kind of for this program. Solike as folks call, as folks come

in, we are able to seewhat better understand their need than to see,
great, is this inappropriate referral tobe made? Because because hands On
Harvard is with the Coordinate Access Network, we were a partner in Journey Home
with access to the Rapid Response funds. Okay, yeah, so it's really
a two prong approach. You havethe Coordinate Access Network agencies like hands On

Hartford and Journey Home who are administratingit, and they're really working to get
folks out of the shelter system,right. They want to get them moved
in use that Section eight voucher andI've even seen in some instances that it
can be as little as an applicationfee because there is no flexible funding that
the agency has or you know,there are parameters around funding that can be

used by the state. So Ithink that that's just another highlight of how
United Way is unique, as wehave flexible funding that we're able to provide
both municipalities and those agencies in thatnetwork. Such a great point, you
know, Eric, how long areyou hoping that this program can you know,
continue and you know, hopefully atsome point it won't be needed,

but you know, unfortunately there thatmay not be the case. So if
we could talk a little bit aboutthat, Yeah, I mean, it's
it's really a pilot at this point, right. We want to test it
out. We want to see,you know, how the funds are used,
you know, the numbers by townships, so you know, like the
instances that Matt talked about, certainlythrough the end of December. I'm not
sure how long thereafter, but thewhole purpose of the fund was through the

winter season, so I would think, you know, at least for a
few more months or so, wewould we would be wrapping it up,
okay, and then just assessing,you know, and just and that's what
we do, you know, wetalk to our partners, we assess what
the need is and we and wecontinue to be nimble around those issues.
But you know this, actually thiswhole card program started during COVID, Okay,

so you know it's like, okay, well we did this during COVID.
Can we do the same sort ofthing, you know for a rapid
response because we're seeing the issue aroundhomelessness? Okay? And now what as
the business community, and I'll kindof ask each of you, you know,
and kind of this question is,you know, what really can we
as a community be doing to lookto help. Whether that's you know,
certainly there's always donating dollars, butthen in addition, what are other ways

that we can look to partner witheach of your organizations? Yeah, you
know, we were actually really pleasedto receive a special donation from ever Source
this year for Giving Tuesday, andso that went to the Rapid Response Fund
and we were able to leverage someof our Giving Tuesday donations. But certainly
we want to increase the funding andbe able to give as much out as
we can. I do know thatjust from you know, feedback from those

on our impact team that you know, the funds could be depleted very easily
if everyone got all their requests.So we just want to make sure that
we have ample funds and we're constantlylooking at ways to best leverage those funds.
Okay seven, any thoughts there too, kind of on looking at the
business community and how can they lookto support your efforts and you know,
in addition to this program. Yeah, I mean I agree again, right,

providing financial donations is always welcomed andwe're always thankful for that as well.
I also know we're working hard toalso write and courage businesses to really
put on food drives, food forour food pantry, which you know right
now we're serving over a thousand householdsa month. That's double and so what

we started serving last year. Sothere's definitely a need for various not only
financial donations, but for food drivesas well to support our food access programs.
Okay, and of course, DinaGather fifty five, I was just
going to say, go to dinneror buy a scow for your holiday parties.
See, there we go. Ilike that. I'm sure folks can

reach out to our director, robMy food Sheets, you know, talk
with him. Okay, there wego. I like it. I like
it, And Matt you know,looking at the business community in Vernon kind
of what are you know, someof the things that you're either seeing support
already happening there or additional things thatthat community in addition to our region,
you know, the community can doto help support SURE. So back in

twenty twenty two, we actually hadin Vernon two community conversations. The first
one was on homelessness, and theUnited Way came in and did a presentation
on Alice did a simulation for theattendees on what it's like to have a
fixed amount of money per month andhave to make the decisions about Okay,

where does the money go. It'sjust like moving pieces around on a board
and sometimes there's not enough pieces andthere's too many spaces on the board.
And the attendees really got to seethat firsthand, and a number of those
were businesses in Vernon. The secondcommunity conversation we did later in twenty two
was on employment. You know,so we talked about rising housing costs,

we talked about rising food costs.We're all seeing that at grocery stores,
rising energy costs, the cost ofhome heating oil going up, and we
administer our energy assistance program Federal dollarsthat come to every state. The states
distribute them to the towns and otherorganizations with them, then give them to
individuals. Well, last year therewas less energy money that was distributed,

but the cost of the oil andwhatnot was higher, so it was like
a double WHAMMI, so your dollarsgo less far. We had more people
calling us earlier in the winter sayingI'm out of oil, I'm in a
cold house, I'm a senior,I've got young children. What do I
do? Fortunately, in Vernon wehave a Tritown Fuel Bank funded by private

donations where we are able to doemergency deliveries, So that is good.
But going back to that conversation onemployment, I would say that businesses can
also work with individuals to look atthings like the real cost of living and
real working wages excellently. You knowa lot of jobs are part time paying

minimum wage. It just it justisn't enough in times, particularly with families,
particularly with families with kids. SoI think businesses can look at their
bottom line and say, are wetaking care of our employees in a way
that's going to allow them to leadhealthy, productive lives. Because to be
honest, employee turnover is a costto a business too, so being able

to retain employees is just good businessstrategy. No, such good points there.
Thank you so much for bringing thatup, Matt. And before you
know we close out the show.I do want Eric to you to touch
on if someone is experiencing homelessness orexperiencing issues, or knows somebody that might
be kind of what is the bestprocess for them to get more information?
So you can dial two on oneand option three is the housing direct line,

but if their call times are longerthan usual, I also encourage people
to go to two one one ctdot org and you'll have a faster response
to navigate resources, but you wouldbe put in touch with an advocate through
the Coordinated Access Network, just likeStephanie's organization. Okay, fantastic, great,
such good information, and Eric wouldlove you know. We're kind of

closing out on the calendar year here, which is crazy to think, but
you know what else is coming upfor the United Way, you know,
in the next the rest of theyear and even hanging into twenty twenty four.
Well, ringing in twenty twenty four, we will be one hundred years
old, We'll be celebrating our centennial. So we are so excited. You
look good for one hundred. Thankyou. That's thinking the same thing,

maw. It's definitely you know,aging green. We have secrets coming from
California. Yeah, but yeah,So our big volunteer income tax assistance.
The season is coming up. Solast year our Vita volunteers returned nearly twenty
million dollars to the region in taxcredits and refunds over thirteen thousand families.

So we're very excited about that.So if you would like to prepare tax
returns and they have that skill setand I don't want to dive in a
unit waightink dot org slash volunteer.So the tax season is fast approaching.
And then also we have an eventRed White and Chocolate and it's returning February
eighth, and this year it's actuallygoing to be in Hartford at Duncan Park.

It's usually been in West Hertford atthe DeLamar. This year it's coming
to Duncan Park February eighth, andso you can go see all of our
events at unitewaight ink dot org slashevents. Okay, fantastic, that's always
a good one. I mean thename itself says it all right, perfect?
And Stephanie, what's coming up forhands On Hartford, you know,
either to close the year out orto start twenty looking into twenty twenty four?

Yeah, so we will be openon Christmas Day serving a free community
meal. Nice. Everyone. We'llopen at ten am and we'll serve from
eleven thirty to one thirty. Andsame way with New Year's Day. Okay,
we open again, free community meal, open to everyone. Okay,
fifty five Bartholomew and Harford. Fantastic, that's great. And where can people
go to learn more about hands OnHartford gather fifty five and all the work

we're doing. You can go onour website hands on Hartford dot work all
right, easy enough, I likeit. Fantastic And Matt, where can
individuals go to learn more about thetown of Vernon and you know kind of
all the services that you're providing.Sure, so the Town of Vernon does
have an active website, active socialmedia presence. They can get information there.
Vernon Social Services has a tab.We'll continue our energy assistance program through

the spring. Okay, Vita orVita I've heard it both ways, not
sure which it is, but there'sa lot of acronyms. We do have
that as well in Vernon. SoVernon residents can have their taxes prepared for
free if their income qualified. Andthen we'll be starting Renters Rebate, which
is a program to assist elderly andlow income individuals with their rent. So

it's really a year long thing.It just we go from program to program.
It just depends on the time ofthe year. Oh my goodness,
I was going to say a lotof resources there. So that's fantastic,
So thank you so much for sharingthat. And we have a couple minutes
left in the show. So wheneverwe do, I always love to ask
the question, not to put anyoneon the spot, but I'm want to
put you all on the spot.Is what do you love most about either

living or working here, you know, in the Hartford region. And Eric,
I know I've asked you this before, but I'd love to here again,
especially too because you are newer toConnecticut. Couple here are two years
two years so actually this point,yeah, it's not even new anymore.
No, No, you know Ihave mentioned this before, but you know,
I'm I'm privileged that I get towork and worship in Hartford, but

I live in Gramby, so verydifferent landscapes and opportunities to explore. And
so I just love the diversity ofthe Hartford region. Fantastic answer. I
love that. And what about you, Stephanie, So I love working in
Hartford. I love how vibrant thecity is, how there's always different activities

going on, and I love thefolks that we serve as well. Good
answer. Another good on. Everyone'sanswer is always so different, which makes
it great. Matt, how aboutyou? You look ready to answer this?
Yeah, I'm ready. I've onlybeen here a little bit longer than
Eric. We moved here two anda half years ago from Ohio. Oh
Okay. We definitely appreciate the diversity, the diversity of people, the diversity

of experiences, the diversity of placesto eat. I'm going to check out
Gather fifty five for sure. Butalso the green space. I love.
I love how everyone appreciates the greenspace, all the outdoor activities, and
quite honestly, just that you canget to like multiple different states within an
hour or two. In Ohio,if I drove for an hour or two,

I was still in Ohio. No. A very good answer. There,
so fantastic. Well, thank youall so much, and if you
don't mind, I'm gonna go downthe line and remind people again where people
can learn more information about your services. So Eric, I'll start from you
and work work our way down unincdot org, all right, Stephanie for

hands on Hertford hands on Heartford dotorg all right, and matt ernidoshct dot
gov and the tab for social servicesall right. Fantastic. Well, thank
you all so much for being here. Appreciate it, and thank you for
all the work that you're doing herein the community. All right, fantastic.
So, as we close out theshow today, we would like to

first welcome a new investor to theMHA. We refer to our members as
investors because they're investing in the workwe're doing to help promote and grow the
region. Today we welcome the ArizonaCollege of Nursing. They are located in
Hartford, Connecticut. The school isdesigned to equip you with both knowledge and
practical skills in as little as threeyears. Learning takes place in multiple environments,

including the classroom, clinical agencies,simulation and learning laboratories, the community,
and virtually throughout the internet. Formore information, visit Arizona College dot
edu. For all the details abouttoday's show, you can visit Pulsothregion dot
com. We'd like to say thankyou to our show partner Okill, and
of course thanks to you for listening. I'm Kate Bauman to go out and

make it a good day here inConnecticut.
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