Housing Assistance Corporation Blog

HAC Gives Homeless Couple a Fresh Start in New Home

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Tue, Jan 24, 2017 @ 11:44 AM
Georgina Wolf Photo-1.jpgGeorgina outside the Hyannis cottage that is now home to her and her husband Jim. 

In the last month that HAC ran NOAH, Georgina and Jim represented one of the final success stories in the agency’s 32-year history of operating the shelter. On the first day of October, the couple had moved into a Hyannis cottage, located less than a mile from HAC’s offices on West Main Street.

It represented a step forward for the two who had lived at the NOAH Shelter since January of last year.

At NOAH, they were connected to the services they needed, from medical to housing, to eventually become self-sufficient. The news that a home had been found for them was delivered by former shelter director Greg Bar, who is now a housing search specialist at HAC.

When they were living at the shelter, each of Georgina and Jim’s possessions fit into two separate totes which were placed under the separate twin beds they slept on every night. “It had all your paperwork and important documents, then your toiletries and then your clothing,” Georgina said of the totes, a little more than two weeks after she and her husband had a bigger space to fit their belongings.

No longer will they need a tote. But when they moved in October, they had yet to accumulate enough possessions to fill the small cottage. But that did not matter to them. That’s because this is now home.

What led them to homelessness? “Layoff, illness, having no income and I self-medicated with alcohol,” Georgina admitted.

Georgina’s struggles included two bouts with cancer, the last of which occurred while in shelter. Her husband, a licensed electrician, had undergone three major surgeries that left him disabled and unable to work.

When they arrived at NOAH, they had lost everything. “There was a fear of what is going to happen next,” Georgina said. “Will I ever have housing again?”

With each other’s love, Jim and Georgina made it through their darkest hours; while in shelter the two, who had been together for over 15 years, were legally married. And with HAC’s help, they slowly began to make progress.

“I feel grateful, very ecstatic,” Georgina said, inside her new home. “I feel that here, this place, is going to bring us back what we had lost.”

Give Hope to a HAC Client

Tags: housing, Affordable Housing on Cape Cod, homelessness, NOAH Shelter, Greg Bar

HAC Says Farewell to NOAH Shelter

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Fri, Nov 04, 2016 @ 10:21 AM
noah staff.jpgNOAH staff who attended the final gathering at the shelter on October 31 included Darrell Thomas (rear, from left), Lucy Collins, Marvin Domino, Jan Rogers, shelter director Greg Bar, Carolann Gillard (front, from left), Lucy Sears and Julie Munson.

With a small gathering that included live music, speeches and some tears, HAC said farewell to its NOAH Shelter on the final day of October. On November 1, management of the shelter shifted to Catholic Social Services, ending HAC’s 32-year operation of NOAH.

The shelter first opened in the winter of 1984 in the old Hyannis Armory before moving to its current location on Winter Street the next year. Since that time, the shelter provided homeless men and women with a warm meal, shower and bed for 365 days a year.

In the beginning of October, HAC’s board voted to hand over the operations of NOAH to Catholic Social Services which runs three other shelters in Southeastern Massachusetts.

HAC will continue to operate its three family shelters – Angel House in Hyannis; Carriage House in North Falmouth; and The Village at Cataumet in Bourne – as well as its scattered site units, all of which assist homeless families in the region. HAC also will continue its homeless outreach program which works with men and women living in the streets and in the woods of Cape Cod, connecting them to the services they need in order to transition to permanent housing.

NOAH-2.jpgLucy Collins was one of a handful of NOAH staff recognized for their longtime service to the shelter. Collins had worked at the shelter since July 1989. She will continue to work at the shelter, renamed St. Joseph's House, for Catholic Social Services. "I get to continue to do work that I love," she said. 

Four days prior to the transfer of operations, HAC CEO Rick Presbrey met with Catholic Social Services CEO Arlene McNamee to sign the lease of the NOAH Shelter building. During the meeting, Presbrey said that McNamee repeatedly told him that NOAH staff, “are the most committed people. They really care about their clients.”

Presbrey said NOAH has always been a place where those in need felt welcomed. “You work with them from the point of view about caring about them and realizing that they are in a tough spot,” he said. “That’s real important… You can’t really like this work unless you care about the outcomes and the people we’re helping.”

Tags: homelessness, NOAH Shelter, NOAH, Greg Bar, Catholic Social Services

NOAH Starts Movie Discussion Group

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Fri, Sep 30, 2016 @ 05:37 PM

Film_Reel_1.jpg

Movies have the ability to make people think about themselves and the world they live in. And at the NOAH Shelter, director Greg Bar is using them as an avenue to stimulate dialogue among the homeless men and women staying there.

It started at the end of April with a Friday afternoon screening of “The Lady in the Van”, a British film that tells the real life story of playwright Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) and a homeless woman, Mary Shepherd (Maggie Smith), who ends up living in a van parked in his London driveway for 15 years. In February, Cape Cinema held a special screening of the independent film as part of a benefit for HAC featuring a panel discussion that included Bar.

After participating in that event, Bar wanted to show the film to those at NOAH to get their thoughts. When Marvin Domino, a NOAH direct care staff member, asked what the most positive aspect of the film was, Doug, a 52-year-old guest at the shelter, responded, “that there is forgiveness and that there is understanding. And we don’t have to put blame on ourselves and we don’t have to be so hard on ourselves.”

For nearly 45 minutes, guests talked about the movie, what they liked about it and whether it would change people’s perceptions of the homeless.

Based on the feedback, Bar has continued the movie discussion group, screening films focused on overcoming adversity like “Conviction”, “Good Will Hunting” and Crash.” “The first one went so well, I decided let’s keep going,” Bar said. “I like the idea of discussion times for anything… It is good to talk.”

Tags: NOAH Shelter, Greg Bar, movies

NOAH Shelter Says Farewell to Joseph N'kunta

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Fri, Sep 23, 2016 @ 12:11 PM
Joseph_Nkunta_Photo_1.jpgJoseph N’kunta (front right) with fellow NOAH staff members Jan Rogers (from rear left), Greg Bar, Steve Crossen and Lonnie Daniels. Joseph’s wife, Lillian (front left), joined him at the lunch.

For a large part of the past 15 years, Mashpee’s Joseph N’kunta has been the face of the NOAH Shelter where he could often be seen greeting guests at the entrance of the facility. But that changed in May when the 75-year-old stepped down from his post as direct care staff.

Though he is no longer there, his presence remains. “I think 10 years from now people will still ask, ‘Is Joe still here?’” Jan Rogers, direct care staff at the shelter, said during a retirement party held at Golden Fountain in Hyannis last month. “You’ve left an impression on the clients, the community, the volunteers who’ve come in to help and the staff.”

Over the course of an hour, Joseph listened to his colleagues praise him for the work he did at NOAH and the way he treated clients with care and compassion. He said he did so because he understood that NOAH staff are there for one purpose – to serve the shelter guests as they take the necessary steps towards self-sufficiency. “Our intentions as a staff were for the people who walked through those doors,” he said. “Once the door opens, it is important that we keep it open even though we will move on.”

A Message of Hope
His message to those at the NOAH Shelter was always positive. “It was the hope of good things to come,” he said. “And to never lose your faith that things will get better.”

Shelter director Greg Bar called Joseph, “a stabilizing, kind of immovable force.”

“You know, it was amazing how you were able to not just connect with the clients, but you were able to connect with the staff in a way that they had nothing but high respect for you. They still do,” said NOAH Day Center Director Lonnie Daniels.

Though direct care staffer Steve Crossen had only worked with Joseph for six months, he still managed to make an impression on him. “You taught me a tremendous amount of things about the homeless population and about compassion,” Crossen said. “And compassion is what I want to be about.”

Joseph’s wife, Lillian, told his coworkers that her husband’s compassion for others was genuine. “It’s not a front. It’s real,” she said. “He’s got a good heart, always. I just love him to pieces and I’m proud to be his wife. I appreciate him as an overall person: the way he treats the clients, the way he treats individuals. It shows he’s got a good heart.”

Tags: homelessness, Lonnie Daniels, NOAH Shelter, Greg Bar, Joseph N'kunta

NOAH Classes Offer Tools for the Cape's Homeless

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Wed, May 25, 2016 @ 10:51 AM
NOAH_Life_Skills_Photo.jpgNOAH's Deborah McDonnell (left) with shelter director Greg Bar. McDonell led an 11-week class that gave NOAH guests the tools and confidence to be successful after leaving shelter. 

This year, Deborah McDonnell will graduate from Plymouth State University in New Hampshire with a master’s degree in social work.

When she does, she will have practical experience that shows work in this field can provide tangible benefits to those most in need thanks to her time at the NOAH Shelter. McDonnell has been at the shelter since last July when she was hired as direct care staff.

She has combined her work at the shelter with her academic studies to provide Cape Cod’s homeless men and women with real-life skills that can help them once they move out of NOAH and into permanent housing. Last fall, McDonnell designed an 11-week course titled “It Gets Better” as part of a capstone project aimed at providing shelter guests with useful tools they can draw on when they achieve self-sufficiency. It’s a course she plans on bringing back to the shelter, in some form, in the future.

“I wanted to reintroduce guests to what their goals and dreams are and reconnect them with aspects of their community,” she said in December when she was handing out certificates of completion to 26 men and women who had taken part in the course. “It’s really shoring up their skills and giving them special strategies to work with anger management, conflict resolution and accumulating stress in their bodies.”

Reawakening NOAH Guests

To that end, she led participants in a variety of activities – meditation, physical exercises that included ping pong, charades and writing poetry – that tapped into parts of their mind and body that may have gone stagnant as they coped with homelessness.

Shelter director Greg Bar said the classes seemed to reawaken many shelter guests who became actively engaged in McDonnell’s lessons. “What I hope is that they realize life can get better,” Bar said. “And that it gave them some practical tools to move forward in life. Some people who started the group in October are gone, are housed and employed which is pretty cool.”

McDonnell hoped that NOAH guests would draw upon their experiences in the class to help them during life’s tougher moments so “that they keep reaching with the best they have to achieve all they want to achieve.”

Lou, a 62-year-old at NOAH, said McDonnell’s sessions were useful in helping him to better control his emotions. While his goal “is getting out of here, that’s step number one,” he said that NOAH has helped keep him both sober and safe, especially during the colder, winter months.

Both he and Doug, another guest at the shelter, admitted being homeless has been difficult. “The loss of self,” is the worst part, said Doug, who arrived at NOAH in November.

His message to those who may have negative attitudes towards the homeless spoke to the underlying concept behind McDonnell’s class: “I’d tell them to open their hearts to the possibility of helping somebody who is homeless,” Doug said.

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Tags: homelessness, NOAH Shelter, Greg Bar

NOAH Meal Volunteers Fill Clients With Hope

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Thu, Aug 27, 2015 @ 09:59 AM
DSC 0076 resized 600HAC’s Darrell Thomas (middle right) talks to the volunteers that serve meals at the NOAH Shelter.

Whenever an individual comes to the NOAH Shelter in Hyannis, they have experienced serious trauma.

It could be the result of mental illness, addiction, loss of a job, divorce or medical problems. So they look for small beacons of hope that will ultimately lift them out of the darkness. And that hope is what they receive every night when complete strangers, out of the goodness of their hearts, prepare dinner for upwards of 60 homeless men and women staying at the shelter.

“Just by being here and showing a little love is a huge thing,” shelter director Greg Bar told roughly three dozen such volunteers at the end of February when he offered tips for those serving meals and introduced his colleague Darrell Thomas as the new kitchen manager for the shelter.

What these HAC volunteers provide for Cape Cod’s homeless population, Bar said, is a little normalcy when they need it most.

“What you all provide for us is immeasurable,” Thomas added, before acknowledging that he knows exactly what NOAH’s clients are experiencing. “We were in a situation 

like them. My family had no place to stay. We got to HAC and they helped me and my family get back on our feet.”

Thomas, who was hired at HAC in the summer of 2010, has witnessed firsthand the positive impact meal volunteers can have on those who are homeless.

One has been dubbed the “soup lady,” providing two different types of soups to clients every week.

Bar encouraged them to go beyond just serving a meal. “If you want to give them words of encouragement, do it. If you want to pray with them, do it,” he said. “Any investment that builds these people up is a good thing.”

“It just makes you feel good,” said Beth Heiden, a member of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Centerville, who has been preparing meals at NOAH for roughly two years.

“We could be on the other side,” said Francoise Rocher, also of Our Lady of Victory Parish. She first served a meal at the shelter about seven years ago. As to why she has continually come back, she explained it this way: “Coming here reassures me that there are people in the world who are concerned and care.”

Tags: Homeless, volunteers, Darrell Thomas, HAC, NOAH Shelter, Greg Bar

Winter's Impact on Cape Cod's Homeless

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Wed, Feb 11, 2015 @ 10:17 AM

 DSC 7575 resized 600

The first snowstorm of 2015 was a significant one, dropping over two feet of snow on most parts of Cape Cod and shutting down schools, businesses, government and commerce for nearly two days.

While most people spent their time in the comfort of their own homes, the Cape’s homeless men and women did so wherever they could find safety. For 60 people that meant HAC’s NOAH Shelter which had a line of people waiting to get in the facility when it opened at noon on the Monday the first snowflakes started to fall. “We don’t see that usually,” shelter director Greg Bar said. “That just goes to show you whether you are rich or poor, storms get you panicky.”

In preparation for the blizzard, Bar stocked up on essentials – flashlights, first aid kits and food in the event dinners from donors did not make their way to the shelter. Blankets were stockpiled to make them accessible if the power went out. “We looked ahead to make sure we were one hundred percent self-sufficient,” he said.

With the shelter at capacity, he anticipated a small contingent would have to sleep in the foyer.

Anytime these types of extreme weather events hit the region, Bar said, it can create a mixture of tension and boredom in the shelter as cabin fever starts to set in. It is why Bar welcomed any sort of entertainment – a guest leading a group activity or discussion or a musician entertaining clients – in the future when a similar-sized storm starts to subside.

In what has been a stroke of good fortune, Bar said that the Cape’s homeless have been relatively lucky as “there have been no tragedies because of the weather. I hope that continues.”

Of course, that could always change. In advance of the January storm, there were a few homeless who were planning on remaining outside despite pleas from advocates like Bar and Dan McCullough, director of TEAM M25, a homeless outreach group on the Cape.

McCullough, who often works with the homeless who sleep in camps in the woods, said most were finding temporary shelter elsewhere, whether being put up at a local motel, couch surfing with a friend or at NOAH.

He knew of a small group that had planned to stay in the basement of an abandoned building near the Hyannis Airport. “We have done the best we can,” he said, noting that those who did stay outside were given extreme weather gear, from tents to sleeping bags to blankets to clothes, and understood the risks involved.

With 20 years of experience working with the homeless on Cape Cod, McCullough said he realizes that there are those who “have the capacity, intelligence and imagination to stay outside in weather like this. And they almost always survive if they can put up with the discomfort.”

Still, the preference for those like McCullough and Bar is that these homeless people accept help in storms like this. “There are alternatives for people,” Bar stressed.

Tags: Homeless, snow, NOAH, Dan McCullough, Greg Bar, winter, M25

Dennis Fifth Grader Raises Funds for NOAH Shelter

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Thu, Jan 22, 2015 @ 10:38 AM
DSC 6915 resized 600Glen Baker collected donations at the Stop & Shop in South Yarmouth.

In many ways Glen Baker is your average fifth grader. He plays football and baseball and enjoys hanging out with his friends at the Nathaniel H. Wixon Innovation School in South Dennis.

It is there, while attending a school assembly focused on the issue of homelessness in November, Glen was inspired to do something unusual for an 11-year-old. He wanted to make a positive difference in his community.

So in the three days leading up to Thanksgiving, Glen set up a table and some bins inside the Stop & Shop in South Yarmouth, and spent a few hours after school collecting donations – money, food and clothes – for Cape Cod’s homeless men and women.

As he manned the table the first night, Baker said he was taken aback at the assembly when he learned that, “some of my friends were homeless at a point in their lives.”

Feeling sympathy for them was not enough. Baker wanted to help them, and others in similar situations, by organizing a drive with all donations going to the NOAH Shelter in Hyannis.

With his mother, Darlene Baker, and older brother, Drew Cochran, 17, by his side, Glen smiled as one store employee commended him for his efforts. “This is awesome,” she said. “I’m so proud of you.”

“Here’s a few dollars. You might want to stuff it in there,” one customer said, handing Glen a donation to put in a small, clear plastic container.

Another customer, having just won $100 on a scratch ticket, paid it forward by giving some of her winnings to Glen’s drive for the homeless. “This is my lucky day so it’s your lucky day,” she said.

As his donations began to slowly pile up, Drew marveled at the small act of kindness his brother was displaying. “It is pretty neat,” Drew said. “It caught me off guard when he said he was going to help out the homeless. He is only 11 years old. You wouldn’t think an 11-year-old would do this.”

DSC 6925 resized 600Glen Baker with Greg Bar of the NOAH Shelter

In total, Glen was able to collect over $1,000 worth of donations that included coats, gloves, toiletries, food and $583 that will go to help those staying at the NOAH Shelter.

A little less than a week after he finished his drive, Glen had a chance to meet those he was helping when he stopped by the shelter to drop off the donations. “This is Glen,” said shelter director Greg Bar as he introduced him to the roughly 20 clients sitting in the NOAH Shelter common room. “This 11-year-old kid had an idea that, ‘Hey, I can do something to help people.’ So he set up a table at Stop & Shop and people dropped off food, coats and gloves for people who are in need. Isn’t that cool?”

Tags: Homeless, fundraiser, NOAH Shelter, Greg Bar, Glen Baker

Bringing Christmas Cheer to the NOAH Shelter

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Wed, Jan 21, 2015 @ 12:06 PM
Greg and Santa at NOAH (Christmas) resized 600NOAH Shelter Director Greg Bar and Santa Claus on Christmas morning. 

Slippers, soap, flashlights, toothbrushes and water bottles are not at the top of most people’s Christmas lists.

But on Christmas morning, these basic gifts were handed out to homeless men and women who had spent the previous night at the NOAH Shelter in Hyannis. They were small in worth, but the items were invaluable to the recipients.

“Kindness,” was the answer one client offered when asked what the gifts meant to him.

“This is great for those who don’t have family or anywhere to go for Christmas,” said another client in his mid-20’s who has been homeless for nearly nine months.

The experience of being on the streets, he said, “is pretty miserable” and celebrating the holidays in shelter was difficult because he would not be with his son on Christmas.

But thanks to the charitableness of complete strangers – people like Michael and Area Princi of Marstons Mills, Lisa Balegno of Marstons Mills and her daughters Rachel and Ashley, Jerry and Susan Friedman of Cotuit, and Jason and Melissa Rossi of Marstons Mills – the clients at the NOAH Shelter had something to celebrate. The group arrived at the shelter at 5:30 on Christmas morning, adorned in Santa hats and armed with eggs, sausage, potatoes and bread.

Together, they made breakfast to order – omelettes, scrambled eggs and French toast, helping to ensure the holiday started off on the right foot for NOAH clients. It is a tradition the Princi’s have done for the last, “five or six years… It is really one of the most rewarding Christmas mornings you can have because we get more heartfelt ‘thank you’s’ from everybody that comes out,” Michael said. “It is not normal for the homeless and people at the shelter to be waited on and be given a nice, hot breakfast.”

Since 1990, the Princi’s have also organized a holiday gift basket drive for families in shelter and those making the transition out of it. Michael talked about the lessons the drive has taught his children and grandchildren. “One of the things it did for them is that it gave them a tremendous appreciation for everything we have and how important it is to remember and act to help those who don’t have as much,” he said.

Cape Cod's Secret Santa

HAC has witnessed similar charity in one anonymous donor - a true Secret Santa - who donated $50 each to clients at the NOAH Shelter this past December, just as he has in recent years.

That spirit continued through Christmas morning at NOAH, where following breakfast, shelter director Greg Bar was joined by Santa Claus in singing a medley of Christmas songs that included “Holly Jolly Christmas”, “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” as clients joined in.

Scott and Jackie Dutra of Centerville, and their two daughters Gabriella, 16, and Miranda, 15, then handed out gifts to the clients.

“I need these so bad,” one homeless woman said as she was given slippers.

The festivities ended with a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” sung by Mary Stacey-Smith, who works at both the NOAH Shelter and Angel House. “This is great,” she said afterwards. “Hopefully, this lifted people’s spirits and gave them something to celebrate on Christmas. This was a way to make their morning bright and start the day off right.”

Inside the shelter’s kitchen, Bar proudly reflected on the Christmas celebration with Santa by his side. “At least we gave them something to remember,” Bar said.

For Santa, the morning epitomized what the holiday is all about. “All the love in this shelter for the homeless is inspiring. It really is,” he said.

 

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Tags: Santa Claus, Michael Princi, NOAH Shelter, Greg Bar, Christmas, Area Princi

Lonnie Daniels Lends Expertise to the Day Center at NOAH

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Wed, Dec 10, 2014 @ 11:54 AM

DSC 6079 resized 600

A career in the social services can be difficult, particularly when helping those who are most vulnerable in society.

Lonnie Daniels knows this all too well. For roughly two decades he has worked with HIV patients, abused children and homeless adults. This is just a short list of people the 40-year-old has encountered in his profession.

The Brooklyn-born Daniels has held stints at the Germaine Lawrence Campus in Arlington; McLean Hospital in Brighton; Boston Living Center; and the Andrus Children’s Center in Yonkers, all nonprofits that provide treatment and care for children and adults with a host of complex needs.

Now Daniels is bringing his experience to HAC as a consultant for the Day Center at NOAH which opened in May as a way to give Cape Cod’s homeless population a safe place to stay during the day.

Daniels, who oversees the day-to-day operations for Father Bill’s homeless shelter in Quincy, was introduced to NOAH while conducting training for shelter staff earlier this year.

Shortly thereafter, Daniels was hired to serve as a consultant, providing guidance as HAC goes through the growing pains of running a day shelter. Though he lives in Roxbury, Daniels makes the commute to Hyannis two to three times a week.

He works closely with NOAH Shelter director Greg Bar, observing the day center operations and finding ways it can run more efficiently. “I’m doing observations of the staff, the clients, the building and the flow of traffic and I’m assessing what resources are here and what I see is needed,” Daniels said in explaining his role.

That role is focused on the current parameters HAC is working with and not dealing with what-ifs like wanting a new building for the NOAH Shelter. “We should work with the building we have first,” he stressed.

Bar had high praise for Daniels, calling him “very personable… He knows how to work with all kinds of people.” Beyond that, Bar said, that Daniels has been tremendously helpful in formulating a vision for NOAH that aligns with what community leaders want from the day center.

Prior to working with NOAH, Daniels admitted that he had a similar perception about the homeless on Cape Cod as many tourists do – there are none. “For me, it’s opened my eyes to the homeless population that is here,” he said, noting that they are not unlike the people he crosses paths with at Father Bill’s.

Regardless of where they are from, Daniels relishes the opportunity to help the homeless take the steps necessary to improve their lives. “It is possible,” he said. “Homelessness is a temporary state.”

Daniels, who is currently studying to obtain his master’s in divinity from Gordon College, hopes to one day start a ministry that incorporates the homeless issue as its primary mission. This line of work, he acknowledged, is not easy, but the reward is in knowing that he has made a positive difference in someone’s life. “I’ve worked with folks with serious issues in a variety of different capacities. It’s a challenge,” he said. “But if, at the end of the day, I can get the man or woman sitting across from me to smile and take their mind off of their problems for even a half a second it’s worth it. It [success] is measured in small little increments.”

Tags: homelessness, HAC, Lonnie Daniels, NOAH Shelter, Greg Bar, Day Center at NOAH