Housing Assistance Corporation Blog

What Drives Homeless Rates? It's Not What You Think

Posted by Rick Presbrey on Wed, Sep 14, 2016 @ 10:06 AM


An August 25 article in the Boston Globe made the case that housing costs, not poverty, drive up the rates of homelessness. The article analyzed homelessness rates nationwide and discovered that homelessness is most prevalent in states where housing costs are highest. New York, Massachusetts, Hawaii and California are examples of states with the highest rates of homelessness, with Hawaii first and New York second. The states with the lowest homeless population rates are Mississippi and Alabama. Interestingly, the article makes the point that Massachusetts does the best job of providing housing and/or shelter for homeless families, but does not do as well for individuals.

The article doesn’t talk about incomes, but it is obvious they are higher in the states with the highest rates of homelessness. This usually results in those states spending the most to deal with the problem. The article cites the three main reasons for homelessness as a sudden life crisis, a breakdown in social support from friends and family, and a lack of housing at the bottom end of the market.

After reading the article it is hard not to see Cape Cod as having the perfect storm for homelessness: high housing costs, low wages, high rates of addiction, and an extreme lack of available housing at the low end of the market. While there has been a big state response to homelessness here on the Cape, we have made the problem even more difficult to solve because of the following: few areas zoned for multi-family rental housing, large lot zoning, lack of public wastewater infrastructure, development patterns that make public transportation difficult, and limited opportunities for good paying jobs. At the same time, state resources have been targeted primarily towards families as opposed to individuals.

Generous state resources were made available to the Cape in the 1980s when we had the highest rate of family homelessness in Massachusetts. Thousands of families were housed and since then, as resources have shrunk, hundreds of families have moved, and been helped to move, to areas of Southeastern Massachusetts where rental housing is more plentiful and less expensive, and where there are more available jobs.

What remains, especially in the urbanized area of the Mid-Cape, is a relatively large number of homeless individuals. State resources are increasing to help with the problem, and social and municipal leaders are working hard to find resources and to employ the best approaches to helping people secure housing and services they may need.

Help End Homelessness

Tags: homelessness, HAC

HAC Welcomes Walter Phinney to Agency

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Fri, Jul 29, 2016 @ 01:50 PM


The next few years at HAC will see significant changes in leadership as longtime, dedicated staff step down, paving the way for new faces to make their mark on the agency.

Those changes started in earnest last month when HAC welcomed Walter Phinney to its ranks as its Chief Operating Officer (COO). Phinney, who lives in South Dennis, replaces Michael Sweeney, who will retire in October after 35 years at HAC.

On his first official day, Phinney was treated to a brunch where CEO Rick Presbrey introduced him to his colleagues. “I think he’ll bring a lot to the organization,” Presbrey said, before delving into his work experience.

Phinney most recently served as COO at Arbour Counseling Services which runs mental health and addiction centers throughout Massachusetts. Prior to that, he was COO at Outer Cape Health Services in Wellfleet, where he was responsible for clinical operations, including behavioral health.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Boston College and a master’s degree in health care administration from New England College.

As much of his recent work has been focused off-Cape, Phinney expressed an excitement that he would be able to make a difference here. “Rick mentioned that I was driving all over so I’m looking forward to making an impact in my community as opposed to Worcester and Lawrence and Haverhill and Lowell and Medford,” Phinney said. “There is something nice about knowing you’re affecting the people who are your neighbors.” 

Tags: HAC, Walter Phinney, succession planning

Outreach: A New Role for HAC

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Thu, Jul 28, 2016 @ 10:44 AM


It’s the first Thursday in July. Three 20-somethings are seated on a park bench on the Hyannis Village Green. HAC’s Derick Bussiere is engaged with one, talking about mutual friends they have in Dennis, while Duffy Health Center’s outreach case manager Rick Smillie and recovery support navigator Dominique DeCola are talking to another who mentions he has an appointment at Duffy later that day. The third sits, looking only at his phone, not making any effort to interact with the trio.

This is a typical scenario for Bussiere in his new position as the outreach specialist at HAC. He began the job in June, representing a major shift from his previous one as the housing search specialist at the NOAH Shelter.

The two roles have the same end goal: help find housing for the region’s homeless. But in his new post, Bussiere is meeting these individuals on their turf in hopes of developing a level of trust where he can connect them to services they need so they can get off the streets.

Bussiere partners with agencies, like Duffy Health Center, trying to serve a population that can sometimes be difficult to reach. As Jason Sturgis, a Barnstable police officer on the force’s Community Impact Unit, puts it, those like Bussiere are an invaluable resource for Cape Cod’s homeless. “Someone like Derick or Rick helps them navigate the network of services and are a useful tool for us,” he said.

While Bussiere’s work encompasses the entire Cape and the islands, his focus is Hyannis. Every day, he visits sections of town where the homeless are known to congregate, usually meeting up with those from other organizations that include not only Duffy and the Barnstable Police Department, but Vinfen and M25, an outreach group that works with the Cape’s homeless living in the woods.

Working Towards Progress

Admittedly, Bussiere said the work is difficult and it is harder to judge progress than his previous position because, “you can’t make anybody do anything.” Yes, he can offer assistance, but people do not have to accept it.

The first step in the process, he says, is building a relationship with those he is trying to help. “One of the biggest things is the trust factor,” he said. “It’s a lot of checking in with people and taking it one step at a time… When I did housing at NOAH, a lot of people who were getting housed had already passed a lot of steps. Right now, I’m working with a lot of individuals who are not there yet.”

Bussiere, Smillie and DeCola all listed a number of obstacles – unemployment, substance abuse, scarcity of drug treatment and lack of affordable housing – that can serve to impede those steps.

There is a real complexity to the situations Bussiere is confronted with on a daily basis. He references one 92-year-old World War II veteran who he was able to move into a nursing home with the help of Cape Cod Hospital, Vinfen and the Cape & Islands Veterans’ Outreach Center. It was a small victory that was quickly followed by defeat: 12 hours later that client died.

“I was talking to him one day and all of the sudden, I’m not,” Bussiere said. “The situation is over and you move on to the next person. It is a lot sometimes to deal with.”

Despite these difficulties, Bussiere and those he works with understand they play a key role in helping address homelessness in this part of the state “If we don’t do it, who will?” asked DeCola, mentioning the one thing that keeps them going: “There is always hope.”

Help End Homelessness

Tags: homelessness, Derick Bussiere, NOAH Shelter, HAC

Editorial: Learning To Do Things I Never Thought Possible

Posted by Rick Presbrey on Fri, Jun 10, 2016 @ 11:40 AM


This will be the first time I have written my column while on vacation. The result is that this column may be a departure from my usual. It takes me about five days to change my thinking patterns away from work issues to whatever the time off involves. In this case I have traveled to rural Virginia to visit my lifelong best friend Paul with my wife, Melanie, and our just-home-from-college son, Paul. My son Paul is named after my best friend Paul.

My friend Paul (MFP) grew up in Massachusetts with three sisters, a mother who raised horses, and a father who traveled all over the world as an international diplomat and advisor to several Presidents. MFP was a great student and an Olympic athlete and an introvert—all very different than me. Our friendship is based on each of us admiring the other for our differences, our loyalty to each other, and our lifelong passion for cars, mostly European cars. MFP began his career as a college professor but before long became a part-time professor and full-time car hobbyist. His days have been spent for years not buying and selling cars, although he occasionally did that with great success, but restoring carefully chosen cars he had found for his permanent collection. Typically, the cars he now owns are worth ten times what he paid for them, but none are for sale.  He is an expert, needless to say, and he can do all the restoration work himself.

One of the purposes of our trip does involve a car. About five years ago MFP bought a pile of rusted and dusty parts of a race car built by an aircraft engineer in St. Louis in 1959. He bought it so he could recreate it while working with his namesake, my son Paul (MSP). Each year MSP spends about a week in Virginia. He is learning while fabricating, restoring and assembling this car. MFP and MSP have become fast friends. For the past week, I have been part of the rebuilding team and I have learned to do things I never thought possible.

The second extra special part of this vacation is that one of MFP’s sisters, Diana, who is three years my senior and who I have not seen for 45 years scheduled a visit from Seattle with one of her grandsons, who is 15. He has also been part of the magic of race car restoration and learning to do things you never thought you could do.

For me, seeing Diana was a tearful reunion. I felt a spark of renewal of a lifelong friendship that was only a seedling when we last met. Each night our little group of seven met and exchanged life stories which often involved things we had shared as youths, but had experiences in very different ways. Longtime friendships are important to me.

It was a terrific vacation and next year we are going to do it again. But now back to work, having learned some life lessons that apply well to my HAC family and many longtime and budding friendships where we often accomplish things that we may not have thought possible.

Tags: HAC, Rick Presbrey

Rick Presbrey's Editorial: Embarking on a New Era

Posted by Rick Presbrey on Wed, May 18, 2016 @ 10:02 AM


A couple of months ago we began the search for a new Chief Operating Officer (COO). Our very capable COO Michael Sweeney will be retiring in the fall, unless I can talk him into staying longer. We advertised in thirteen places with social media being eleven of the thirteen. Our expensive ad in the Boston Globe produced nothing while social media brought us a pool of incredibly talented people. The abundance of talent, much of it local, surprised me and made me feel pretty good that so many people are interested in working at HAC.

The COO position, in simplest terms, supervises all the division directors except finance leaving the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), me, to concentrate on internal and external policy issues, external relations, Board relations, raising money and developing new programs. We don’t do it exactly that way now, but we will when the retirements of our three most senior people take place.

For me the process is scary because the future of the agency, which I founded more than 40 years ago, depends on our making good choices. The core qualities that I look for in employees are integrity, commitment, and intelligence. In considering each candidate we try to determine their strengths in these three areas and are less concerned about their specific experience in the job for which they are applying. I believe that if a candidate possesses these three qualities they will figure out how to get the job done well, since this is a management job not a technical one. Of course there are other attributes we look for as well, such as confidence, writing and speaking skills, sense of humor, compassion, and so forth.

Another surprise is that we are finding people who seem to fit other positions within the agency as well. An unexpected hard part is choosing the top candidate among several who could do the job well. Throughout the process of looking for a COO, the fit within the agency, the compatibility with me, and the compatibility with an as-yet-unknown new CEO have all been concerns.

After filling the COO position, the search for a new CEO will begin. On all of our minds is the fact that 80% of the time after a founder leaves, the selection of a new CEO doesn’t work out well. We are doing all we can to make sure we end up in the successful 20% where the transition works out well.

Tags: HAC, Rick Presbrey, succession planning

HAC Adds to Its Roster

Posted by HAC Staff on Wed, Nov 18, 2015 @ 02:25 PM
reckford.jpg Noah_Cropped1.jpg

Two longtime journalists joined HAC this month.

Laura M. Reckford is serving as HAC’s director of community relations and fundraising. She has been a reporter and editor on Cape Cod for more than 20 years. Most recently, she was news editor at Cape Cod Broadcasting Media and prior to that, she was editor at The Barnstable Enterprise newspaper. Reckford, who lives in Falmouth, previously held the position of senior writer at HAC in 2013.

Noah Hoffenberg is HAC’s director of housing information. In this role, Hoffenberg will be researching housing and homelessness issues, advocating for affordable housing and homelessness prevention measures and helping HAC assess its current programming. Hoffenberg, who lives in Sandwich, brings 15 years of journalism experience to HAC, having been the editor of two daily and two weekly newspapers.

Tags: HAC

HAC is Looking for Big Fix Volunteers

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Fri, Sep 04, 2015 @ 12:42 PM


Great things happen when over 200 people come together to help their neighbors in need. It has happened every fall for five years as part of HAC’s annual Big Fix.

And it will happen once more on Saturday, October 24 when HAC and its army of volunteers descend upon Bourne to assist complete strangers by making minor home repairs that have become difficult for them to undertake.

“We’re certainly excited about it,” said Bourne Town Administrator Thomas Guerino. “The energy the Big Fix brings with volunteers helping folks who may fall through the cracks by bringing their housing to a livable situation is tremendous.”

The Big Fix is targeted at helping senior citizens, veterans and disabled residents, understanding that small home improvements can make a world of difference in the quality of their lives.

The day of service also can have a profound impact on those doing the actual work. “Volunteers come out for a half a day and when they’re done, they’ve made a real difference for a homeowner in need,” said HAC’s volunteer coordinator Mary Everett-Patriquin. “Volunteers often say they’re grateful for an opportunity to give back because they remember a difficult time in their past when someone – sometimes a complete stranger – reached out to help them through it.”

Want to volunteer? Click this link or contact Mary Everett-Patriquin at volunteer@HAConCapeCod.org or 508-771-5400, ext. 279 for more info! The deadline to submit an application is Friday, October 16.

Tags: Bourne, HAC, Big Fix, volunteer

Activities Director Hired for NOAH Shelter

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Tue, Sep 01, 2015 @ 05:04 PM

Lonnie Daniels Photo resized 600

When HAC first opened the Day Center at NOAH last May, it looked to Lonnie Daniels to assist the nonprofit as it began this new endeavor.

At the time, Daniels was hired as a part-time consultant to the day center, juggling the role with his post at Father Bill’s in Quincy, where he oversaw the day-to-day operations at that homeless shelter.

This past March, Daniels’ responsibilities shifted as HAC named him the first-ever activities director for the day center. In this part-time role, consisting of roughly 20 hours a week, Daniels oversees programs for day center clients.

Though still new to the position, Daniels has invited representatives from both the Department of Transitional Assistance in Hyannis, and the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission to NOAH where they have worked with those at the shelter.

Daniels views his primary role as bringing vital services to the homeless at a time when they need it most. “What this role does is provides services for them so they’re not just sitting around,” he said. “And it keeps them engaged.” 

Tags: Homeless, homelessness, HAC, Lonnie Daniels, NOAH Shelter

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

Rick Presbrey's Editorial: A Gift

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Wed, Aug 19, 2015 @ 08:40 AM

describe the image

It has been a tough summer. With unbelievably bad publicity and futile efforts to resolve the bizarre issues we are left only with the ability to stay positive and keep working to carry out our mission.

I am a social person who loves talking to people. Last week I was getting in to my car at the Marston’s Mills Post Office and one of our donors, who I know well, pulled into the next parking spot. I hoped she wouldn’t see me. I left. Yesterday we received an unsolicited donation from her with a very nice note of support.

Being under constant attack for the existence of the NOAH Shelter, and for an ill-timed comment I made to a staff person in May, which I have gotten in trouble for, has made me think hard about what we are doing and what we believe at HAC. After being up very late last night talking to my wife about it I realized that we can’t slow down what we are doing and or stop believing in what we stand for. We can’t be afraid. We are so often the last defense and last hope for those in need.

I deeply believe we are all equal as human beings. But we don’t all get the same breaks or advantages in life. We see people all day every day who don’t believe in themselves because they have been told all their lives that they are worthless. I know it is impossible to help everyone and it is unrealistic to expect that we will be able to put in enough time and effort to make all the difference needed, but we can try.

The cover story in HACbeat is just such an example. And what you don’t know is that the staff person who did the great work with this family is someone who needed a second chance herself and we gave it to her and she responded. My hat is off to her.

Last week another donor contacted me and said she wanted to give HAC a “large” gift in my name that would be a message to others, and would help others restore their faith in me and HAC by her example. I have gotten lots of cards and letters as well and been contacted by many that I haven’t seen or heard from in years.

Last night, at a play, a man who I didn’t know came up to me at intermission and thanked me for the work I do and HAC does and wished me well.

In order to have HAC continue its great work, and even improve upon it, we have to have faith in the goodness of humankind. I have lost some of that faith this summer, but the examples I have written about here are bringing it back.

Tags: housing, HAC, Rick Presbrey, NOAH Shelter