BRISTOL â€“ It took a village to find housing for over 40 homeless youth during the â€śReaching Home Ending Homelessness 100 Day Challenge.â€ť
At Saturdayâ€™s farmers market, Bristol celebrated the achievement.
The nationwide effort began on May 1 and ended on Aug. 8. During that time, several Connecticut towns housed at least 40 homeless youth ages 18 to 24. They also connected them to health, education and employment services.
New Britain, Berlin, Bristol, Plainville and Southington participated. The towns are part of the Central Connecticut Coordinated Access Network (CAN), which sponsored the challenge.
The Central Connecticut CAN housed 44 youth over the course of the challenge. It was a team effort involving the City of Bristol and several local organizations.
â€śIf we all take a piece, then itâ€™s a tremendous force,â€ť said Christine Thebarge, director of Agape House, a morning homeless outreach center.
â€śI think itâ€™s one of those responsibilities of government to help coordinate efforts,â€ť said Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu. She added that the city is like the glue that links all the groups together.
â€śWeâ€™re really proud of this accomplishment and helping over 40 youth break the cycle,â€ť the mayor said.
Bristolâ€™s Community Services was also instrumental in getting youth into safe homes.
â€śThe last statewide youth count was in 2018 and found that there were 5,054 unaccompanied youth who were homeless or unstably housed in Connecticut,â€ť said Community Services coordinator Annemarie Sundgren in a press release from the City of Bristol. â€śSo we are thrilled to have surpassed the goal of safely and stably housing more than 40 homeless youth as part of this yearâ€™s 100 Day Challenge.â€ť
The Bristol Boys & Girls Club â€śYouth of the Yearâ€ť Stanley Cardona, who experienced homelessness himself as a child, attended the celebration. He also aided in the challenge.
â€śStuff like this is important. Thereâ€™s people who are in real trouble and in need,â€ť said Cardona. â€śWithout this program, there would be so many people who wouldnâ€™t know where to turn to.â€ť
â€śStanleyâ€™s story and all these stories really epitomizes that it really does take a village,â€ť said Zoppo-Sassu.
It was the first time the challenge focused on homeless youth.
At Agape House, providing a safe place for young people to go is critical. The center helps in any way it can, from letting visitors borrow phones to helping them talk to their parents.
â€śItâ€™s all individual. Thereâ€™s no magic wand,â€ť said Thebarge. â€śWe have an open door, judgment free policy.â€ť
â€śWe build relationships and with those relationships comes trust,â€ť she added.
The Partnership for Strong Communities said in the press release that eight challenges happened across the state, each funded by â€śa wide array of local philanthropies.â€ť
Brianâ€™s Angels, an afternoon homeless outreach center, and the Bristol Board of Education also helped in Bristolâ€™s challenge.
However, just because the challenge is over doesnâ€™t mean the efforts to end youth homelessness are.
â€śWith a statewide goal of ending youth homelessness across Connecticut by 2020, every municipality has to step up to connect at risk youth with the services that can help them get back on their feet and able to live happy, healthy, productive lives,â€ť said Mayor Zoppo-Sassu in the release.
â€śWe keep going forward,â€ť said Thebarge. â€śI pray for the day we donâ€™t ever have to be open.â€ť
Those needing services can get help by calling (860) 314-4690, ext 3.
Michelle Jalbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.