How United Way aced the 100-Day Homelessness Challenge (and why you should donate)

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More than 100 individuals who were living on the streets a few short months ago now have a place they can call home, thanks to the combined efforts of United Way of Greater New Haven (UWGNH) agencies during the 100-Day Challenge to End Homelessness.

The challenge, launched April 18, had a seemingly impossible goal: house 75% of the region’s most hard-to-reach, chronically homeless individuals in just 100 days. The effort — led by Amy Casavina Hall, UWGNH’s vice president for income and health initiatives — was based on similar, successful challenge programs elsewhere in the country.

By combining their forces and resources, the United Way agencies serving the region’s homeless not only met that goal but, in doing so, transformed how they will work together in the future.

“We knew reaching the goal would be next to impossible,” wrote Joshua Mamis, vice president of community engagement at UWGNH, in his blog. “But the urgency created by the sharp deadline spurred innovation and working relationships that had atrophied over time.” It took many long hours, and near daily meetings of advocates and organizations serving the homeless, he added, “But we did it.”

The federal government deems individuals to be chronically homeless if they have been homeless for a year or more, or have been homeless four or more times in the last three years and suffer from a disability, such as mental illness.

Prior to the challenge, it took about three years to help people get “document-ready” — that is, to gather the needed identification papers and proof of chronic homelessness — to qualify for government housing support. During the 100-Day Challenge, the United Way agencies reduced the timespan for that process to less than one month, and created systems to ensure that the newly housed individuals receive the support and services they need to make the transition a success.

By the end of the 100 days, 43 chronically homeless individuals had been housed, and 59 were document-reading and waiting for a housing match. By Nov. 25, those numbers were 107 and 87, respectively.

“[T]he people we know who are working on homelessness have never been more excited about the possibilities [of this new approach],” writes Mamis, adding, “Which is all to say, of course, that great things happen when we ‘Work United.’”

Creating lasting and meaningful change

The 100-Day Homelessness Challenge is just one of the myriad ways in which organizations supported by the United Way of Greater New Haven are making a positive impact on the communities the organization serves: Bethany, Branford, East Haven, Guilford, Hamden, Madison, New Haven, North Branford, North Haven, Orange, West Haven, and Woodbridge. 

Other examples of United Way success stories in the past year include:

  • More than 800 young children took part in early childhood education programs aimed at ensuring school success.
  • 1,300 students were enrolled in United Way-supported afterschool programs.
  • Almost 95,000 people got the help they needed (including with public assistance, housing, and utilities/heat) through 2-1-1, a United Way service.
  • More than 300 people now have jobs as a result of United Way’s partnerships with workforce development partners.
  • Fewer children are going hungry in the summer, thanks to United Way support of the New Haven Food Truck. More than 47,000 meals were provided to children and youths during its first four summers.
  • 270,000 meals were served at soup kitchens and shelters that receive United Way funding.

“[T]hrough United Way, one person truly can make a difference.”

— Professor Julia Adams

The Yale-United Way fundraising drive aims to ensure that these efforts to improve the lives of individuals and families in the Greater New Haven area can continue and expand.

“At Yale we engage with our city and our region in so many ways, but our work with United Way is a special connection,” noted President Peter Salovey in a message to the campus community.

“Our partnership with United Way of Greater New Haven is founded on a shared belief in ‘change, not charity.’ We are not satisfied simply providing short-term support; our goal is to create lasting and meaningful change,” he added.

Faculty, staff, students parents, visitors, and alumni can contribute to the Yale-United Way campaign online. Yale has committed $100,000 to match all new and increased faculty and staff donations made through payroll deduction — thereby doubling the impact of donors’ contributions.

Furthermore, donors can direct how their gifts will be used. They can choose to give to the United Way Community Fund, which will distribute the monies among the member agencies, or they can donate all or a percentage of their gift to four key areas:

  • Education: Helping children and youth achieve their potential 
  • Income: Helping families become financially stable
  • Health: Helping people become physically and mentally healthy.
  • Basic Needs: Helping people secure food and housing

Individuals can also opt to direct their donation to any qualified 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

Visit the Yale-United Way Campaign website to learn more about how your contribution can help develop lasting solutions to critical issues in the region. There you will also find testimonies by Yale community members about why they support the United Way.

One of these supporters is Professor Julia Adams, master of Calhoun College, who sums it up this way: “[T]hrough United Way, one person truly can make a difference.”

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