Housing Homeless Families

Woman smiling

Zelema, a single working mother of three, was sleeping in her car while her children stayed at their grandmother’s house. Zelema is a college-educated accountant holding down a job, but she lives paycheck-to-paycheck.

“I’m an adult—it’s different. I can deal with me, but they still need to grow,” said Zelema about living out of her car.

Zelema’s friend urged her to contact 2-1-1 for help. The holidays and the bitter cold were approaching. She called and explained her situation to 2-1-1 operators who then connected her with the Greater New Haven Coordinated Access Network (CAN). CAN is a group made up of United Way and other local partners working together to end homelessness in our region.

A CAN staff member and Zelema had a problem-solving conversation. They decided that shelter was not the best option for the family. Zelema’s job paid enough for monthly rent, but she didn’t have enough savings to afford the security deposit. What she needed was money for that security deposit, which the CAN was able to provide.
Fast forward a few weeks, and Zelema’s daughters were picking out their new bedrooms in an apartment they could call home.

“I cried. I was in tears because this is something we’ve been waiting for,” she recalls the moment they finally settled in.

This work is called diversion. Diversion is a great way to use small amounts of money to make a big impact, and keep families out of shelter. Keeping families out of shelter may require something small, such as paying an overdue utility bill, or coming up with a security deposit, like in Zelema’s case.

The goal is to keep families from entering shelter in the first place. While shelters serve a critical emergency role in our community, research shows that it’s best if families and individuals can find another safe option.

Zelema and her girls join over 500 families in our region who have been diverted since the beginning of 2018 thanks to the coordination efforts provided by the CAN. Working together, we can help more people, more effectively.