Housing Assistance Corporation Blog

Starting Young With Literacy

Posted by Julie Wake on Wed, Feb 12, 2014 @ 10:21 AM

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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.
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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).

Tags: Homeless on Cape Cod, Angel House, Cotuit Library

Rick Presbrey's Editorial: A 10-Year Plan to Reduce Homelessness

Posted by Laura Reckford on Wed, Dec 11, 2013 @ 08:32 AM

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For 30 years, I have been in favor of rental assistance being time-limited.

That was a based on my belief that in the long view—back when Reagan was president—that continued increases in funding were not sustainable.

I think that as each family is deemed eligible for assistance in the state Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program and the federal Section 8 programs they should have a choice: a large monthly subsidy for a short time, say three years, a medium rental subsidy each month for up to 10 years, or a smaller amount each month for up to 20 years.

In this way participants would know what to expect and could plan for it. As assistance for existing participants expires, funds would be available to help those with current needs and crises. I know it sounds generous, and it is, but it isn’t as generous as the system we have now.

To give some background to how I reached this conclusion, you need only look at the present state of housing affairs in the commonwealth.

It should come as no surprise that with high rental housing costs, relatively high unemployment particularly among lower income people, and low paying jobs, thousands of families can’t afford to pay market rent.

In tight economic times, no new comprehensive publicly funded initiative to solve this problem can be realistically expected.

Instead, in Boston and Washington various amounts of money have been appropriated for a variety of piecemeal and often complicated solutions designed to keep families without housing or at risk of losing housing safe.

These programs, which include HomeBASE (Building Alternatives to Shelter) and now RAFT (Residential Assistance for Families in Transition), just haven’t worked or at least haven’t been able to keep up with the persistent demand.

Massachusetts is a "right to shelter" state and therefore, no one can be denied the right to a place to sleep each night. One of the high priority goals of the Patrick administration has been to eliminate the use of motels, paid for by the commonwealth, to shelter homeless families. Through no lack of effort this goal has not been reached to date. There are now more than 2,000 homeless households in motels being paid by the commonwealth and another 2,000 more families in state-funded shelters.

The added crisis in Massachusetts since July is that families have begun "timing out" on two years of rental assistance under the HomeBASE program with no further rental assistance being offered.

Two years looked pretty good in the beginning but unless major changes took place within the two years to either the economy, availability of good paying jobs, or the family itself, the cycle of homelessness for many would just begin again in the 25

th month.

In anticipation of families "timing-out" of the program, the HomeBASE program offers families up to $4,000 to help make the transition to independence, and the family can still go into a state-funded shelter.

When a similar timing out occurred in New York a couple of years ago, it showed that many did not immediately ask for further ongoing help after their rental assistance ran out.

Massachusetts, so far, is taking a wait and see attitude to see how people fare here.

Dire predictions of what would happen to families losing this assistance have so far not come true, with about 20% of the households returning to shelter at the expiration of their two years of state assistance in paying the rent. But in time many more may find the need to seek further help.

The state’s plan now is to issue 500 "new" Mass Rental Housing Vouchers (MRVP) to offer help to those with the greatest need.

Hopefully that won’t send the wrong message and unduly raise expectations. That message, in the minds of those in need, may be that if you tough it out, more subsidies are on the way.

That could cause many to seek access to a system that does not have the funds to help everyone in need. The problem

with traditional state and federal rental assistance is that as long as a tenant remains income-eligible they can continue receiving monthly assistance paying the rent for the rest of their lives.

Rental assistance does resolve their housing woes once and for all and the findings from years of experience have been that it benefits families in several key ways that improve families’ health and well being.

Once a household begins receiving monthly rental assistance, it goes on forever as long as the voucher holder remains income-eligible, making the aid a disincentive for some, perhaps many, to increase their income to the point that they become ineligible for continued assistance.

People become dependent on the assistance and fear giving it up.

Several steps have been taken over the years to reduce the sense of dependence, such as reserving or holding your subsidy for a period of time after your income makes you ineligible in case you lose your job and need assistance again. But still, few willingly give up the financial help each year.

One result is that if each year new families need help, the public funding of these programs must continue to increase. Since that isn’t happening, those now in need do not get the help they need. One result is that we have 4,000 households in Massachusetts crowded into shelters and motels being paid for out of the state budget.

There are lots of efforts to try to solve the problem but there is no real master plan that legislators, advocates and state officials can agree on.

I think it is a mistake now to issue new "lifetime" MRVP vouchers to those timing out of HomeBASE because it enables a lifetime of dependency, because it feeds the expectation to those entering the system now that a lifetime of help may be available if they show a great enough need and hang on long enough, and because the lifetime subsidy prevents others in need from getting any meaningful financial help for years into the future.

At the present time the Department of Housing and Community Development’s Section 8 program, managed by regional non-profits like Housing Assistance Corporation, have about 20,000 families receiving monthly subsidies with approximately 100,000 households statewide on waiting lists for help that most will never get.

To be clear, people come in, they apply for something they need, and they leave hoping help will come. And it never will for most of them. Help is not on the way.

We need a fresh approach. Let’s try the following:

1) End lifetime rental subsidies at both the federal and state levels.

2) Create a simple homeless prevention program which provides one-time limited financial help to households with a crisis to keep them from becoming homeless in the first place. Income eligibility needs to be higher than past efforts in order to be able to effectively intervene before it is too late to avoid the crisis.

3) Create a standardized curriculum and fund teachers in state-funded shelters with an emphasis on using the resident time productively in learning family life skills, academic skills and job-readiness skills to help people move towards educational and vocational achievement.

4) Fund case managers for every 30 households who are in their first year of receiving rental assistance and a case manager for every 250 after one year in order to monitor and aid their progress towards independence.

5 ) Increase the minimum wage substantially in Massachusetts so that those qualifying for entry-level positions have some hope of being able to support themselves.

If people can’t live on what they earn our system isn’t working.

The patchwork of help we now provide isn’t working either.

Tags: Homeless on Cape Cod, housing assistance corporation, Rick Presbrey

Basket Party An Annual Tradition To Help Cape Cod Families in Need

Posted by Laura Reckford on Wed, Dec 11, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

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At the party Michael Princi throws every year to help homeless families, the host told a favorite story about how a small gesture can help someone in need.

He described a party he gave with his son, Patrick Princi, at HAC's NOAH Shelter one Christmas. They brought a karaoke machine to the shelter and everyone took a turn, including Michael.

With much coaxing, one homeless woman took her turn at the microphone and Michael said the entire group was amazed at her singing prowess. "It was like 'American Idol,'" he said. "She had perfect pitch."

Afterwards, the woman, who had been a foster child with no family of her own, thanked Michael Princi, telling him it was the best Christams she had ever had. Her reaction captures the magic of giving, he said.

Michael Princi has held a special party for 24 years as a way to collect baskets of Christmas presents for families in Housing Assistance Corporation's shelters. He asks friends to contribute and he said one friend thanked him for letting her buy for a family. "That's what it's about," he said. "Anonymous giving. Knowing you are helping other people who wouldn't have a Christmas."

HAC's Project Prevention Director Dolores Barbati-Poore said of the event, "It's wonderful. It's family to family."

HAC CEO Rick Presbrey paid tribute to Dolores, saying "She has done more to help homeless families in her career than anyone else on Cape Cod. She does it year after year. It takes its toll but she keeps on doing it." He added, "Working with people in need is a marathon, not a sprint. Keep doing it and trust that good things will happen."

Tags: Homeless on Cape Cod, Homeless

Telethon Highlights Stories About Homelessness

Posted by Laura Reckford on Tue, Dec 10, 2013 @ 06:30 PM

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Talking about the weeks and months she was homeless was so painful for one former Project Prevention client, she found it difficult to tell the story.

Her story will be just one of many that will be a part of the Shelter Cape Cod Telethon on Wednesday, December 11.

The telethon is the biggest fundraiser of the year for Housing Assistance Corporation. This year, the telethon is benefiting all four of HAC's shelters: NOAH Shelter, Angel House in Hyannis, Carriage House in North Falmouth, and the Village at Cataumet in Bourne.

Besides stories from shelter clients, there will be interviews with shelter staff and music from local school choirs throughout the Cape.

School choirs that have recorded performances for the telethon include Sandwich Soul Show Choir; North Falmouth Elementary School Choir; Cape Cod Academy Lower School Choir in Osterville; St. Pius X Elementary School Choir in South Yarmouth; Nauset Regional High School Honors Chorus; and Nauset Regional High School Treble Chorus.

Other musical groups and singers whose performances will air during the telethon are Falmouth Chorale, Falmouth, Sarah Swain, Katherine King, Molly Parmenter, Heather Cox, Allison Reed, David Kuehn, and Allen McGarry.

A video of Cape Cod Conservatory Ballet Ensemble will be shown.

And Rabbi Elias Lieberman of Falmouth Jewish Congregation will perform live.

The telethon is hosted by Minday Todd of WCAI with co-hosts Rick Presbrey, HAC President/CEO; Paul Pronovost, Cape Cod Times editor-in-chief; Matt Pitta of WXTK; and Sean Corcoran of WCAI.

The show airs live on December 11 from 4 to 9 p.m. on the Cape's local cable access channels and is also streamed live on the web at www.CapeMedia .org. Tune in and give to help homeless families on Cape Cod get back on their feet.

To donate to the telethon, go to sheltercapecodtelethon.org.

Tags: Homeless on Cape Cod, Homeless, NOAH Telethon, housing assistance corporation, NOAH Shelter, Village at Cataumet, Carriage House, Angel House, NOAH

Mark Your Calendar: Shelter Cape Cod Telethon on December 11

Posted by Laura Reckford on Fri, Nov 22, 2013 @ 06:17 PM

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The biggest fundraiser of the year for Housing Assistance Corporation is the Shelter Cape Cod Telethon. This year, the telethon is benefiting all four of HAC’s shelters: NOAH Shelter, Angel House in Hyannis, Carriage House in North Falmouth, and the Village at
Cataumet in Bourne.

The show airs live on Wednesday, December 11 from 4 to 9 p.m. on the Cape’s local cable access channels and is also streamed live on the web at www.capemedia.org.

Once again, the master of ceremonies this year will be Mindy Todd, the host of The Point on WCAI. On air guests will include Paul Pronovost, editor of the Cape Cod Times, Matt Pitta, news director at WXTK and Sean Corcoran of WCAI. There will be videos of a variety of local musical entertainers, from Cape singer/songwriter Sarah Swain to the children’s choir at St. Pius X School in South Yarmouth.

There is still a need for people who want to be “fundraisers” on the air, manning the phone bank of 16 red phones. Join local politicians, celebrities and neighbors to sit on the phone bank and telephone friends and family to ask them to donate for this important cause. To volunteer at the telethon, which takes place at Cape Cod Community Media Center in Dennisport,
contact Mary Everett-Patriquin at volunteer@haconcapecod.org or 508-771-5400 ext. 279.

To donate to the telethon, visit sheltercapecod.org.

Tags: Homeless on Cape Cod, Family Shelter, HAC, NOAH Telethon, NOAH Shelter, Village at Cataumet, Carriage House, Angel House

Trauma Care Proves Successful At HAC's Angel House

Posted by Laura Reckford on Thu, Sep 12, 2013 @ 10:00 AM

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Last December the Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation awarded Housing Assistance Corporation a $373,000 grant to fund a three-year pilot program called Attachment, Self-Regulation and Competency (ARC) to train Angel House staff in trauma-informed care, which focuses on children’s resiliency to heal from early trauma. 

While ARC program at Angel House has only been operating for the last eight months, HAC staff can already see results.

Working in the new Therapeutic Playspace, those trained in the ARC methods have seen remarkable improvements in infants and toddlers, according to staff. One example of a toddler thriving in the program is “ Jacob,” (not his real name) who came to Angel House with his 24-year-old mother last October.  Jacob was born addicted to opiates and when he arrived at Angel House he was a child who had trouble connecting to others.

He was not walking or even sitting up and was behind developmentally. “He functioned in his own world,” according to Angel House clinical director Christina Russell.

HAC's Angel House is focusing on trauma-informed care for children.

Both Jacob and his mother blossomed under the ARC program. Jacob began walking and talking. He learned to feed himself and to use a spoon. He learned sign language to help him communicate and became better at making eye contact. “The change in him was pretty significant,” said Amy Brigham, assistant teacher for Playspace at Angel House.

At the same time, Jacob’s mother was learning important parenting skills. “She was learning how to connect to him,” Ms. Russell said.

Another example is one that Ms. Brigham said is probably the program’s biggest success story so far. "Adam," who came to Angel House in January, was struggling with detox issues that led to severe reflux. Because of the reflux, he was unable to participate in “tummy time,” lying on his stomach, which is important for development of head control and shoulder and arm
strength.

With the help of the ARC program’s early intervention specialists, a program of exercises was developed for Adam to build his core strength on a daily basis. In just one month, he was sitting up and now, after just four months in the ARC program, he is crawling and is catching up to the normal developmental milestones. “That’s a lot of progress for a little guy in
a short period of time,” Ms. Brigham said.

Another child, "Billy," who is now one year old, was described by staff as “very calm and quiet; his laughter is infectious.” But his mother was having trouble parenting her baby. The two were
at Angel House for just a couple of weeks, but in that time in the ARC program, the mother learned to support her son and the child has thrived.

Tags: Homeless on Cape Cod, Homeless, HAC, housing assistance corporation, Angel House

NAACP Honors HAC’s Greg Bar For Commitment ‘Above & Beyond'

Posted by Laura Reckford on Wed, Sep 11, 2013 @ 03:00 PM

HAC's Greg Bar with his award from the NAACP

Each year the NAACP Cape Cod branch gives awards to people who step out beyond their roles, who go “above and beyond” to help people in the community, as NAACP Cape Cod branch vice president John Reed said. At this year’s award ceremony, which took place May 19 at Hyannis Heritage Hotel, HAC’s own Greg Bar was honored.

Greg Bar’s title at HAC is Housing Search Specialist in the Individuals Services Department. He has a desk at NOAH and an office in HAC’s West Main Street headquarters.

His job puts him on the front lines of the Cape’s often hidden world of homeless men and women who bed down for the night in wooded areas or in shelters.

“He is the unsung hero,” Mr. Reed  said.

Mr. Reed said the key to Greg’s success is that the people he serves trust him. “He’s a person they can go to for help,” he said.

Greg's wife Karin Bar, also a HAC employee, kept the NAACP honor a surprise, so he did not know he would receive the award until a few minutes before the ceremony when the pair drove up to the hotel.

“I was stunned and honored,” Greg said. The award acknowledged Greg’s work at HAC with the NOAH shelter and also at New Road, the church he founded in 2005. The church is on Route 28 (Falmouth Road) at Phinney’s Lane in Hyannis. Greg said some call the non-denominational church, the “un-church,” because of its outward focus on service to the community.

Greg said the timing of the award had significance for him. The previous Monday before the award ceremony, he had been a little bit dejected—“I felt a little ‘dip,’” is how he put it. The award got rid of the “dip.”

“I don’t do what I do to get any kind of anything, but to be recognized for this, it reaffirmed we’re spot-on with what we’re doing as a church,” he said.

 “The honor went pretty deep in my heart,” he said.

Greg has been a pastor since 1983. He started at a church in Greenwich, Connecticut and later ran a church on Martha’s Vineyard, the Vineyard Assembly of God.

He has worked at HAC since 2006, starting out as a volunteer at the NOAH shelter. He works both in the HAC headquarters at West Main Street and at the NOAH shelter on Winter Street.

Through his job at HAC, Greg helps people navigate through rough times, connecting them with other services. He counsels them, “gives them hope and makes them feel cared for.”

He said he tells them, “I will stick with you until this gets solved. I’m not going to give up on you.” It is that caring attitude that the NAACP chose to honor.

Tags: Homeless on Cape Cod, Homeless, HAC, housing assistance corporation, NOAH Shelter, NOAH

Golf Day To End Homelessness A Success At Bass River

Posted by Laura Reckford on Thu, Aug 15, 2013 @ 10:00 AM

Ken and Janice Lyman of Yarmouthport have long been supporters of Housing Assistance Corporation’s Project Prevention through their church, St. Pius X Parish in South Yarmouth, but the couple decided they could do more.

Mr. Lyman suggested this spring that his club, the Retired Men’s Club of Cape Cod, raise money for the cause through one of their golf tournaments. The club schedules about five tournaments every spring and fall to raise money for various charities.

The “Golf Day To End Homelessness—Closest-to-the-Pin Contest” was held Monday, May 20 at Bass River Golf Course. About 80 people attended, Mr. Lyman said.

The event raised $700 for Project Prevention.

Also involved in helping with the tournament, including the critical role of working at the tee and measuring the distance to the “pin,” were David Puchalsky of South Yarmouth and Paul and Marcia Karhu of Dennis, who are members of the Congregational Church of South Dennis, which, like St. Pius X is among the 13 churches that are part of Dennis Yarmouth Ecumenical Council for the Prevention of Homelessness (DYECH).

Paul Karhu had been involved for the past two years in running a similar golf tournament at Dennis Highlands. Success of the tournament was limited so he was interested in switching the fundraiser to Bass River Golf Course. Mr. Karhu has also participated over the years in HAC’s Walk to End Homelessness. He did his first walk in 1999.

Tags: housing, Homeless on Cape Cod, Homeless, DYECH, Project Prevention, Prevention, HAC, housing assistance corporation, Housing on Cape Cod

Volunteer Mollie Reis: ‘A Force For Good’ At Carriage House

Posted by Laura Reckford on Sat, Aug 10, 2013 @ 10:00 AM

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By ALISON ALEWINE

When I think of Carriage House, I think of Mollie Reis. If she were not there from day one, it was soon after. She made sure that this shelter was a lovely welcoming home to all the women and children who passed through the doors.

She started out as an extra pair of hands doing whatever was needed but soon began to let us know what was needed and that she was going to meet those needs. A handicapped accessible bathroom was a need and we were (by Mollie’s standards) not responding fast enough, so she did it! That year at HAC’s Annual Meeting among the awards given was one to Mollie Reis: the Golden Toilet Award!--a small, gold replica of a toilet to acknowledge her achievement.

If you have been to Carriage House or seen a picture of it, you know it appears more like a Bed & Breakfast than a shelter. Mollie made sure for 20 plus years that the inside matched the veneer. She got decorators to donate time and materials to make each bedroom special for each guest. Paint, paper, rugs, pictures, comforters – each room could have been featured in Better Homes and Gardens.

Whenever things began to look less than fresh, Mollie did each one over again. Remodeling the kitchen was a favorite activity. Always done in hues of blue and purple (Mollie’s colors!) and the walls were filled with special touches to make the area look both homey and tasteful.

The fitness center at Carriage House is another of Mollie’s gifts. She realized that physical activity was a necessary component of life especially for stress relief. Who could be more in need of stress relief than single mothers of small children who were struggling and homeless. Her friends always knew about the needs and assisted Mollie in meeting them. Saying no to Mollie or her plan was not an option.

Mollie’s oversight and fundraising and gifts to Carriage House were each special but her persona was the teaching tool for clients and staff. No Pollyanna but more of a Mary Poppins, Mollie was a force for good to be reckoned with, and her HAC family will miss her.

Tags: Homeless on Cape Cod, HAC Volunteer Recognition, housing assistance corporation, Carriage House, HAC Volunteers, Molly Reis

Fundraisers This Month To Benefit DYECH For HAC

Posted by Laura Reckford on Mon, Jun 10, 2013 @ 04:58 PM

Several fundraisers to help prevent homelessness are coming up this month in Yarmouth. Mark your calendar for two free concerts and an opportunity to dine out to benefit Dennis Yarmouth Ecumenical  Council for Housing Assistance Corporation.

The Cape Cod Conservatory Jazz Ensemble with Tyler Newcomb will perform on Tuesday, June 25 at 7:30 PM at the Parish Life Center at St. Pius X Church at 21 Barbara Street in South Yarmouth. The church phone number is 508-398-6889. Barbara Street is off Station Avenue (exit 8).

The second concert is the American Gala Concert scheduled for Sunday, July 7 at 2 PM in St. Pius X Church. The concert will feature the St. Pius X Choir, Music Ministry and special guests performing inspirational music directed by Mark Girardin.

Free will offerings will be taken at both concerts.

On Wednesday, June 26, if you dine at the Ninety Nine Restaurant between 4 and 8 PM, 15 percent of the meal will be donated to Dennis Yarmouth Ecumenical Council to Benefit HAC. The Ninety Nine Restaurant is located at 14 Berry Avenue in West Yarmouth. You must bring a voucher with you for the donation to take place. Download this Ninety Nine voucher.

More news to help our neighbors in danger of becoming homeless: Cape Cod Caring Cards, formerly known as food certificates, are now being sold at Our Lady of the Highway Chapel, which is located on Forest Road in Yarmouth, after the 8 AM and 9:30 AM Sunday Masses. The cards are grocery gift cards in which a portion of the amount spent is donated to Housing Assistance Corporation’s Project Prevention to help prevent homelessness.

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Tags: Homeless on Cape Cod, DYECH, Project Prevention, housing assistance corporation