A typical family shelter stay lasts nine months, roughly the length of a school year. Wouldn’t it be a huge benefit to have a statewide standardized educational curriculum for those staying at shelters? Nine months is a long time to waste.
I am particularly worried about the children in shelters.
The Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless has determined
that the average age of a homeless person in Massachusetts is eight years old.
I am concerned that these kids are growing up without adequate parenting.
Not too long ago a woman came into our office who was very pregnant. With more than a touch of mental illness, she resisted letting us do anything for her for several hours, while various concerned staff members tried to offer their skills in resolving the situation. Early in her visit, the woman went outside on a very cold day insisting that her unborn baby liked the cold—as people stood next to her trying to talk her into coming inside. Finally she was convinced to allow us to take her to a motel for a few days. Ten hours later the baby was born.
Another child, Joshua (not his real name) is now seven. He lives with his mom in a cramped apartment in a small town on the Cape. They are living on money from strapped family members who have given them just enough to keep their car going and to pay the relatively modest rent. The mom has little or no other income and keeps promising to find a job but hasn’t yet. The boy goes to school most of the time and comes home to clutter and confusion.
Both moms have mental health problems and backgrounds of abuse and/or addiction.
There are many such situations on Cape Cod right now: Moms who have no money, no job, no secure housing, with abuse, addiction and perhaps mental illness in their lives.
What future do their kids have? Many of these women are in shelters which, in some ways, is a good thing. Shelters at least provide a calming environment, socialization, and people to lean on for advice.
But shelters are not a permanent home and they are not funded to do the job they need to do.
Most of us have gotten to where we are in life with few of the handicaps listed above and many years of mostly full time parenting and schooling. How can we expect people to be healthy, competent parents and be financially self-sufficient without those? How can we expect shelters to make a difference without adequate funding to provide a comprehensive life skills education program? Here at HAC, we used to do such a program, but funding cuts over the years have reduced what we can accomplish. Some shelter clients are given activities and chores but these are not enough.
And, what about the kids and their futures?
Every four years, Horizons for Homeless Children “reinstalls” one of the children’s playspaces in the family shelters at Housing Assistance Corporation. So, this fall, Horizons staffers worked on the playspace at the Village at Cataumet, the family shelter in Cataumet.
The Horizons for Homeless Children playspace program was begun in 1990 and is based on the belief that play is essential for child development. The program ensures that each child living in a homeless shelter in Massachusetts has the opportunity for developmentally appropriate play.
The new play area was dedicated to the donors who made the reinstall possible. The plaque acknowledged donors Fotene and Tom Cote and their friend Suzy. All three donors, who are from the Boston area, attended the event at the Village of Cataumet.
As children ran into the play area to check out all the new toys and games, parents watched and smiled. Krista and Michael watched their son Matthew, 4, play while they held their son Noah, 1. Krista said Matthew particularly loves finger-painting.
Sandy Burke of Gray Gables in Bourne, a volunteer Playspace Activity Leader (PAL) , said, “I like seeing how the kids improve by getting some individual attention and some socialization skills.”
Ryder Mamo, 7, of Truro stopped by the offices of Housing Assistance Corporation on West Main Street in Hyannis the other day accompanied by his mother and a bag full of toys.
They were toys Ryder received on his birthday that he decided to donate to homeless children.
Ryder, who is in second grade at Truro Central School, got the idea from the movie, “The Red Wagon,” which he watched with his family two days before his birthday. The movie is about a young boy who starts a nonprofit to help needy children after a storm leaves local families homeless. After seeing the movie, Ryder decided to include on his birthday party invitations that presents would be donated to homeless children so people should bring unwrapped presents for boys and girls.
Ryder’s mother, Amy Kandall, said she had asked her son what he wanted for his birthday and he said, “I don’t need anything” and he suggested, “Why not give the gifts to someone else less fortunate?”
“We both realized it would be really good to do some community service,” Amy said.
Jodi, 30, is a reader. She is also a homeless single mother. So when the Cotuit Library recently invited Jodi and other homeless mothers to a special family literacy program, she decided to take full advantage of it. “I think it is amazing,” Jodi said.
Jodi’s son, Max, who is almost nine months old, sported a wide smile during the sing-a-longs and paid close attention during a recent reading session at the library.
Jodi and Max live at Angel House, a homeless shelter located in a former apartment complex in Hyannis.
Angel House, one of four shelters operated by Housing Assistance Corporation of Hyannis, is for families in which the parent is recovering from drug and alcohol addictions.
The “Increasing Digital and Family Literacy” program for the families living at Angel House began at Cotuit Library this fall and includes songs and stories for the children plus information for the mothers about the importance of reading to children. The library pairs the family literacy program with a digital literacy program for the mothers about online etiquette and safety.
But it was the family literacy program that was on full display recently at the library as the mothers and their young children sang songs, danced and then settled down to read books together.
Since starting the program, Jodi said she has incorporated reading to Max’s bedtime routine. “Bath, book, breast-feed and bed,” Jodi said. “The four b’s.”
During a recent session, she took out four books for Max. The library allows the mothers from Angel House to take out as many books as they want for the standard two week periods.
On a recent weekday morning, Jodi and six other mothers who from Angel House were participating in the reading program led by Cotuit Library Youth Services Director Lenora Levine.
Levine, who has been at the Cotuit Library for just two years but has worked in libraries for 30 years, said the business of libraries is changing.
“It’s not just a building. We’re a service,” she said. Modern libraries are looking for ways to reach out to the community. Besides the program with the Angel House mothers, the library also has outreach programs at a local preschool and is considering starting a program at the hospital.
“It’s getting to kids when they are little. Starting them off on the right foot,” Levine said about encouraging the Angel House mothers to read to their children. “I think we’re reaching an audience that might not make use of the library.”
Cotuit Library Director Jenny Wiley said she got the idea of approaching Angel House from her wife, who is coordinator of the human services program at Cape Cod Community College. “I was looking for a way for us to do outreach in the community. This is probably the easiest collaboration I’ve ever had,” Wiley said,
When Wiley called Angel House to propose the program to staff there, the response was an immediate and enthusiastic “yes.”
In addition to the program on book literacy, the program with Angel House includes classes on digital literacy.
Wiley said teaching digital literacy has become a common role for modern libraries. In fact, she said when she was going through her master’s degree program in library sciences, about 60 percent of the program focused on digital information.
For the Angel House clients, the program focuses on online etiquette, privacy and safety, including how to find accurate information online. “In the last few years, it has become increasingly important,” Wiley said.
In the first class on online literacy for the Angel House clients, Wiley taught them how to change their privacy settings on Facebook. “They didn’t know about it,” she said. There was also discussion about what information they should and should not post on Facebook.
Between the program on family literacy and the classes on digital literacy, Angel House staff said the Cotuit Library partnership has benefited their clients. “It’s been wonderful,” Angel House Family Therapist Marty Woods said.
This article and these photos are reprinted by permission from Cape Cod Wave (www.capecodwave.com).
The Town of Barnstable has awarded Housing Assistance Corporation funds for the administration of a Home Owner Rehab Program for homeowners whose property is in any of the seven villages in the town of Barnstable.
Possible repairs must fall within the health/safety category.For example, repairs could include septic, roofs, carpentry, mold/mildew, electric, foundation problems, heating systems, water, etc. Home owners who occupy their homes as a principle residence in the Town of Barnstable must be at or below the 80 percent of Area Median Income; and the repairs must be eligible under Health and Safety guidelines.
Contact Brenda Rocklage at 508-771-5400 ext. 285 or brocklage@HAConCapeCod.org for more information.
Eligible Income Guidelines are no more than:
Household of 1: $44,750
Household of 2: $51,150
Household of 3: $57,550
Household of 4: $63,900
Amanda Stroh, bar manager of the Casino Wharf FX in Falmouth, wanted the restaurant to give back to the community this Christmas, so she and her colleagues came up with an innovative idea.
They threw a party for homeless families.
Amanda said she and the bar’s general manager talked about an end of the year way to give back. "We’re fortunate to have a lucrative business. It’s our way of giving back for the people who are supporting us," she said.
She said they wanted to do a party with a meal and gifts for disadvantaged children and through a Google search, they learned about Carriage House, the homeless shelter for families that Housing Assistance Corporation runs in North Falmouth.
Katie, a staffer at Carriage House, referred them to Paula Mallard, the manager at the Village at Cataumet, another HAC family shelter.
Paula, who captured a number of photos from the event, which was held in the afternoon on Saturday, December 7, said it was a fun event for the clients. Amanda agreed.
"The consensus was it went really well. I think everyone had a good time. The staff had a good time," she said, adding that all of the staffers working the party volunteered for the event. In addition, several teens from Falmouth High School played elves for the event.
Amanda said the party was different for Casino staffers because "we don’t normally have children’s parties here." They had to tweak the menu to include kid-friendly items like chicken fingers, pizza and mac and cheese. But other than that, it was business as usual. "People are people," she said.
Amanda said she would definitely like to have the party again next year. "[The idea] will definitely be revisited," she said.
By Rick Presbrey
Sitting at my desk on a cold rainy day one day after Christmas, I had a holiday hangover. Not from drinking—I didn’t—but from the non-stop business of the season.
It seemed like one thing after the other: shopping, wrapping, parties, cleaning the house, putting up and maintaining decorations inside and out, visitors, movies on tv and in the theater, noise and confusion. Now I have a headache. Perhaps the worst of it was the movie "The Wolf of Wall Street," which was a movie so unpleasant and so close to a part of real life that I never see, and don’t want to see, that I for sure didn’t need to see it, especially at holiday time.
The movie is about life in a crass and crude "bubble" within which the people in the bubble believe that their lives are how things are. We deal with lots of such bubbles: far left Democrats and far right Republicans believe that their life experience and life views are the only way things should be or are; evangelical Christians sometimes experience themselves in a bubble with the rest of society outside of that bubble.
Think of Congress not willing to strengthen gun control legislation for fear of not being re-elected—in a bubble—or am I in a bubble for thinking differently?
How about the world of being nice to one another? We live in an increasingly angry and mistrustful society (is that real or just my perception?) while my bubble at HAC is to be as nice and helpful to everyone as possible. How about when the President apologizes now and then? I think it is great (my bubble?) but news pundits speak of why having the President apologize for anything is a bad idea and will weaken America (their bubble).
I like the bubble that HAC is in and I want to never leave it. Last week, HAC staffers were in the process of helping three people who had recently gotten out of jail. We worked on a variety of issues with each and the general atmosphere at HAC was sympathy and a desire to help. My son was home from college (another bubble, perhaps) and he overheard me worrying about the three ex-cons and getting situated in time for Christmas. As I was leaving the house I overheard part of what he said to his mother which was something like, "Have we gone crazy here? Why are we worrying about helping all these criminals getting out of jail?" There was a time I might have said or thought the same thing, but not now.
I now know that everybody has a story and a reason. I also know that being respectful and caring helps people who are struggling succeed. It is never a question if they deserve it or not. The question is, will we all benefit from caring and respectful behavior towards others? I believe that we will and we do.
Christmas is the time our society practices these values. At HAC we do it every day.
After several rounds of Christmas carols, families staying at The Village at Cataumet welcomed Santa and Mrs. Claus on the afternoon of December 23.
The Village at Cataumet is one of three shelters for homeless families that are run by Housing Assistance Corporation. Each child staying at the shelter got a turn on Santa’s knee and received a gift from under the tree.
Yvonne Rivers, a case manager at the Village at Cataumet, said the day every year when Santa visits the shelter is always a festive one. "At the end of the day, they’re happy and that makes us happy because some of them might not have a Christmas. We try to make sure everyone has enough."
Paula Mallard, director of the Village at Cataumet, said she is grateful for the generosity of all the donors of gifts, which come from, among other sources, the annual basket party, the staff at Deep Sea Systems in Cataumet, Plainville Christian Church in New Bedford, and from her church, the Swift Memorial United Methodist Church in Sagamore Beach.
"It’s really incredible how generous people are this time of year, For a lot of kids, this is the only time they get to see Santa for the season," she said. "For some of these kids, it’s the best Christmas they’ll ever have."
Musician Chandler Travis of Eastham said he organizes the Cape Cod Christmas Cavalcade for the Homeless every year because he likes to try to help out those in need.
His way of helping includes a one-of-a-kind festive event with some of the top musicians on the Cape performing holiday music and skits to the delight of an enthusiastic crowd of fans. The concert gives much-needed funds to the NOAH Shelter in Hyannis, where homeless men and women can find shelter, meals and a hot shower year-round.
This year’s Cavalcade, the tenth annual, was held at the Jailhouse Tavern in Orleans and featured, among others, the Chandler Travis Philharmonic, the Rip It Ups, Zoe Lewis, the Ticks, the Greenheads, Tripping Lily, Monica Rizzio, Kami Lyle, Sarah Swain and the Oh Boys, Steve Shook, the Catbirds, Sarah Burrill, Fred Fried, Bruce Maclean, Lydia Parkington, Christine Rathbun, Anna Whiteley, Steven Russell, the Fix-It Sisters, and Athol Thingerth, and Toast and Jam.
Approximately 300 tickets were sold and Chandler also gathered sponsors for the event. Those sponsors included the Wellfleet Beachcomber, Mac’s Seafood, Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank, Spiritus Pizza, Hot Chocolate Sparrow and Cape Cod Audio.
Though donations are still coming in, the event has so far raised about $6,000 from the concert, another $1,200 from a second concert at Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater (WHAT), plus hundreds raised through sponsorships for a total over $9,000, the highest ever from the Cavalcade!
The excitement of a community coming together to help their own was in full evidence at the Shelter Cape Cod Telethon, which took place last month on December 11. It was a festive affair as people from throughout the Cape gathered at Cape Cod Community Media Center in Dennisport for the five-hour television show. It was aired on local cable access channels throughout the Cape.
Housing Assistance Corporation set an ambitious fundraising goal for this year’s telethon of $100,000, which is in sight as more donations continue to come in. The telethon featured video and live performances, special guests and, new this year, students reading essays on the topic of homelessness.
This was a banner year for the event on several counts. For the past nine years, the telethon was called the NOAH Telethon and funds raised went only to the NOAH Shelter in Hyannis. But this year the event had a new name and a new mission. It was called the Shelter Cape Cod Telethon and instead of just benefiting the NOAH Shelter, it also benefited HAC’s three family shelters: the Village at Cataumet in Bourne, Angel House in Hyannis and Carriage House in North Falmouth.
Among the special guests at this year’s telethon was NOAH Shelter manager Greg Bar, who spoke eloquently to the telethon’s host, Mindy Todd, about what homelessness is like from the front lines. Before the telethon, he interviewed some of the clients from NOAH Shelter as well as staff about the issue of homelessness and read those comments on the air.
One of the NOAH clients said, "I’m grateful this place is here. I can’t say the word grateful enough." Another said, "I feel well-supported because I asked for help and I’ve been given it." Mr. Bar said of the clients at NOAH, "It’s hardest to ask for help when you hurt the worst. That’s where these people are at. Just by virtue of walking into the place, they are asking for help. That’s a tough thing."
Besides Mr. Bar, other HAC staffers who went on air to talk about the plight of the homeless on Cape Cod were Cindi Maule, Director of HAC’s family services, Paula Mallard and Yvonne Rivers from the Village at Cataumet, and Amy Brigham from Angel House.
The list of musical performers who recorded videos for the event was extensive. Local DJ Suzanne Tonaire served as the mistress of ceremonies in introducing the musical performers, which included the choirs from St. Pius X School and North Falmouth Elementary School, as well as the Falmouth Chorale.
In addition, Rabbi Elias Lieberman of the Falmouth Jewish Congregation performed live the song, "I Am Home."
During the broadcast, a number of people offered their perspective on the problem of homelessness on Cape Cod. Among them were Dr. Nate Rudman, an emergency room doctor at Cape Cod Hospital and HAC board member, who talked about health issues experienced by the chronically homeless. Cyndy Jones, founder of Heroes in Transition, talked about her agency’s desire to help veterans with various needs.
Perhaps the highlight of the show was 12 fourth and fifth grade students from Nathaniel H. Wixon Innovative School in South Dennis who read essays on the topic of "What Homelessness Means To Me." At least two of the students had personal experiences with their own family being homeless.
The event was hosted by Mindy Todd, host of The Point on WCAI, with assistance from co-hosts Sean Corcoran, also of WCAI; Paul Pronovost, editor of The Cape Cod Times; Matt Pitta of WXTK; and Rick Presbrey, President and CEO of Housing Assistance Corporation.
Several local politicians taped messages of support for the telethon and two politicians, State Representative Brian Mannal of Hyannis and County Commissioner Sheila Lyons of Wellfleet, made appearances in person to throw their support behind the cause of helping homeless Cape Codders.