Yvonne Rivers likes helping others.
That may explain why she is more than suited to her newest position at HAC as the facility director of Carriage House in North Falmouth. “I’ve always been a caretaker, even with my mom, she was young when she passed away at 49,” Rivers said. “I have taken care of people my whole life and I like taking care of people.”
At Carriage House, a homeless shelter for women and their children, Rivers is doing just that. The shelter, which primarily caters to first-time mothers, has the capacity to house 10 women at any given time.
A mother of three – Shiniqua, 33; Robin, 28; and April, 21 – Rivers understands what many of those at Carriage House are going through. Though she was never homeless, Rivers did rely on government assistance as she raised her first daughter. “I was a young mom, about 19 when I had my first,” Rivers said. “I know the struggle of being a young mother and juggling multiple jobs… I feel like this is a perfect opportunity to give back and to give something to these young girls and say, ‘You can do it. Don’t think you can’t.’”
It is that attitude that Rivers brought to HAC when she was initially hired by the agency roughly eight years ago. At the time, Rivers had spent over 11 years as a Certified Nursing Assistant at Royal Megansett Nursing Home in North Falmouth. “I was looking to go in a new direction,” she said.
So she began volunteering at HAC’s NOAH Shelter, where her father Joseph N’kunta had worked since 2001. There she heard of an opening at The Village at Cataumet where she first worked as substitute staff, then the overnight shift and, finally, as a case manager prior to her new position at Carriage House, which she started last May.
As the director, she is not only connecting mothers to housing services, but employment opportunities, financial literacy workshops, counseling and parenting classes so they can become self-sufficient when they eventually leave shelter. Rivers knows that achieving that goal is possible, something she learned as a young parent more than three decades ago. “I do feel like I have a lot to offer these young ladies,” she said. “I feel like I can give them some hope.”
|Georgina 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.”
Affordable Housing on Cape Cod,
Holding a microphone in her right hand and a handwritten essay on a piece of paper in the other, Autumn Rivieccio’s words came out slowly and softly. “When I slept in my car one night with my mom and dad I really learned what homelessness was,” she started.
Perhaps no moment during last month’s Shelter Cape Cod Telethon was more poignant than that one; the moment when a 10-year-old student at the Nathaniel H. Wixon Innovation School in South Dennis, spoke about her experience of sleeping in a car and living in motels.
There were “six or seven motels” to be exact. Perhaps the worst part, Autumn said, is that “we couldn’t have friends over.”
In September, that changed when Autumn and her parents moved into a home in West Yarmouth. “I feel like an actual family because friends and family can come over,” she said, adding that, “my favorite thing is my own room that I can decorate.” Her favorite decoration is a poster with a white kitten holding onto a rope; on it are three simple words: “Hang in There.”
Now in its 13th year, the telethon not only raised awareness to the region’s housing issues, it helped put a face to those impacted by them. People like Autumn Rivieccio and Cathy Gibson, the chair of HAC’s Constituency Committee.
Gibson, a former client, praised HAC for assisting her, first through its voucher program and then its Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program. “The programs run by housing assistance really need to be exactly what they are intended to be: a leg up to be able to set yourself on a path that leads towards self-sufficiency,” she told co-host Matt Pitta of Cape Cod Broadcasting.
Throughout the night, both Pitta and co-host Mindy Todd of WCAI, spoke to those within the agency as well as those outside HAC about ways they are working to address the Cape’s housing issues.
The event also served as a way forward, raising nearly $80,000 for HAC in support of its mission to ensure that all on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket have access to safe, secure housing.
Since 1974, when CEO Rick Presbrey founded the agency, it has been committed to that work. At the end of the night, Pitta took a moment to ask Presbrey about his legacy as he will be retiring in March. “The organization is going to continue. It’s helped 160,000 people and that’s going to continue,” Presbrey said. “I have tried to establish very positive values in how to treat people, how to be honest, and essentially to always be respectful to others, and I think that will stay and I feel good about that.”
Homeless on Cape Cod,
Affordable Housing on Cape Cod,
Shelter Cape Cod Telethon,
|Karen Tewhey, HAC's HCEC housing counselor on Martha's Vineyard.
What can $81,658 buy on Martha’s Vineyard? Housing for seven of the island’s homeless.
That is exactly how HAC will use that money, which was awarded to the agency last month, courtesy of a Continuum of Care grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “It’s the first time in many years Martha’s Vineyard has gotten funding from the [Continuum of Care] so we’re incredibly excited,” said Karen Tewhey, HAC’s Housing Consumer Education Center housing counselor on the island.
Tewhey, who wrote the grant, said roughly half of it will go to rent a year-round permanent home for seven homeless men who have strong roots on the island. The remainder will be used to cover the cost of a program manager who will also reside in the house.
“We are looking at potential sites right now,” Tewhey said, with the goal of opening the home at some point this year.
As part of the program, Tewhey said, HAC is currently seeking additional funding for a case manager who will work with each individual, connecting them to medical, mental health, education and employment services needed for them to become self-sufficient.
The HUD grant serves as a long-term compliment to a short-term one that the United Way of Cape Cod is funding to help address homelessness on the Vineyard. That grant is paying for homeless individuals and families to stay in four island hotels over the winter months.
Tewhey, who celebrates her one-year anniversary at HAC this month, said that there have been 80 individuals on the Vineyard who have been identified since last January that are homeless. “The majority of those individuals end up couch surfing,” she said. “We do have probably up to two dozen individuals who have been unsheltered, living outside or in their cars or in sheds.”
These people serve as a reminder of the disparity of wealth that exists on Martha’s Vineyard. “This is primarily a service economy and this is an extraordinarily expensive place to purchase real estate,” she said. “So many people are dependent on rentals and there is a rental housing crisis on the island. We probably need about 1,000 units of rental housing here.”
Continuum of Care,
Department of Housing and Urban Development,
United Way of Cape Cod,
In her spare time, Dolores Barbati-Poore likes to paint. She has over a dozen original paintings in her Bourne home, the result of the popular paint nights that allow friends to socialize, all while nurturing their creativity.
If Dolores were to create a painting that epitomized her nearly 28 years at HAC, it would most likely represent a picture of hope. “Dolores brought compassion, empathy and she never really gave up on people, some of whom were our toughest clients,” HAC’s AnnMarie Torrey said in describing her coworker. “She took a person at face value. There was never any judgment. She was always trying to save people, trying to help people.”
On the Friday before Thanksgiving, Dolores said farewell to a career spent helping people get the housing services they needed to move forward with their lives. Her time now will be spent with her husband, Edward, a retired glass artist, and her family. She has two children, John and Kara, who live in Bourne, and he has two children, James and Mary Ann.
Dolores first started with HAC in February 1989, processing Chapter 707 certificates with Michael Sweeney, before becoming an assistant to Allison Alewine. Her role at HAC quickly expanded; over the years, she was the family shelter director, helping the agency start the Village at Cataumet in Bourne. She retired as director of the agency’s Project Prevention program which provides emergency funding for those at risk of homelessness due to illness, loss of job or family crisis.
“If the agency was an arrow, she would represent the very tip of it,” said HAC CEO Rick Presbrey. “She is the one that penetrated the target and was able to provide counsel and assistance to even the most difficult clients to get them into housing.”
Having a job where she could affect real change was the most rewarding aspect of her time at HAC. “I’ve been so lucky to have a job where I can help people and get paid for doing it because I like helping people progress in life,” Dolores said.
Many people were surprised a few months ago when the Boston Globe came out with a comprehensive nationwide study of the causes of homelessness. Turns out, lack of affordable housing is a bigger factor than poverty when it comes to homelessness. That’s why Hawaii has more homeless people per capita than Mississippi.
Those findings make sense when you apply them to Cape Cod where, in recent years, we have seen an increasing population of homeless families, as the price of housing continues to rise.
For more than 25 years we have run four emergency shelters for homeless families on the Cape. They don’t get the same attention that our NOAH shelter did, perhaps because most people do not know they exist.
One of the shelters is behind a white picket fence on a main road in Hyannis. Another is a former motel in Bourne and a third is in a grand shingle-style historic home in Falmouth. The fourth, our Scattered Site program, consists of apartments for families in four buildings in Hyannis and Yarmouth.
Although we have turned over our NOAH shelter in Hyannis to Catholic Social Services, we still work with the homeless in our family shelters, which last year housed 174 families, including 195 kids.
We also are continuing to work with homeless individuals through our Outreach Program in which our workers go into the woods and other gathering places to try to bring homeless individuals to services and to get them situated in permanent housing. We also work with chronically homeless individuals through our case managers, who work with recently housed individuals to ensure they stay housed and don’t end up back on the street.
Preventing Homelessness on Cape Cod
Preventing homelessness is also the focus of our Project Prevention program for individuals and families. When there is a crisis such as a major car repair, health emergency, job layoff or other unforeseen event, we step in to help out financially by paying rent, a mortgage payment, a utility bill or other expenses to make sure that individual or family does not lose their home. It turns out that type of assistance also saves taxpayer dollars, because the cost to shelter people is much more expensive than the cost to keep people in their homes.
What is the best way to deal with homelessness—putting individuals and families in a shelter or finding a more permanent solution? Of course, one is short term and one is long term, but we try our best to focus on both. When all else fails, shelter is the solution and then we work to address the individual’s or family’s problems and get them into a good housing situation.
While we will always help homeless individuals and families on Cape Cod with emergency needs, we are also stepping up our efforts to create more affordable housing, because getting people into long-term housing is the ultimate goal. To accomplish that, it is sometimes necessary for families to move into the safe haven of a shelter while they participate in programming to help them get back into permanent housing and to find ways to secure an adequate income and become more self-sufficient.
Homeless on Cape Cod,
|Ellie Shaver (from left), Alan Burt and HAC's Deborah McDonnell are working to assist Falmouth's homeless this winter to get the services they need to turn their lives around.
What’s it like to be homeless? “Hell, literally,” said 39-year-old Brian (his name has been changed to protect his identity) on the first day of December as he stood outside a Falmouth motel that will serve as his temporary home over the winter.
For nearly two months, Brian had lived in a tent in the woods in Falmouth. “I wish I could take you there. It is flooded,” he said, before pausing to assess his current situation. “This is great. You sent me angels.”
Brian is one of 13 men and women who will benefit from a joint program between HAC and Belonging to Each Other to assist Falmouth’s homeless, from December to the end of March. An East Falmouth home is being rented to house four of them while the remainder of the men and women will stay at two motels in town.
This fall, HAC received a $9,000 grant from Falmouth Human Services to provide case management for the individuals. HAC’s Deborah McDonnell will serve in that capacity.
The program is being managed by Alan Burt, a longtime homeless advocate and co-founder of Homeless Not Hopeless in Hyannis. Last year, Burt worked with HAC and members of several faith-based groups which formed Belonging to Each Other in an effort to find a way to address homelessness in that Upper Cape community. The results were promising: out of 27 homeless individuals, they were able to place 20 of them into housing.
Addressing the Gap in Services
“Initially this started because you can’t let people die from the cold in the winter,” said Falmouth’s Ellie Shaver, a parishioner at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church which has taken a leading role in the program. “The more you learn about homelessness, the more you realize there is a huge hole on the Cape, that there is a population of people who live here, who were born here, some of whom work here and who just can’t afford housing.”
And so HAC has lent its support and expertise to solve homelessness at a micro level. “What we’re trying to do is work in communities, in the Mid-Cape area and, in particular, highly populated areas, to help the homeless people stay in their communities of origin rather than having people come to Hyannis for shelter,” explained HAC CEO Rick Presbrey.
If successful, Burt said this could potentially serve as a model that could be replicated in other communities across Cape Cod.
For now, the goals are more modest: provide those like Brian with a safe haven over the next few months so he can start to rebuild his life. “This is a godsend,” he said, before he identified what he hoped to achieve over the next few months. “I want to save up my money so I can have my own place.”
Belonging to Each Other,
|Katie Geissler has been at HAC for nearly 10 years. Earlier this year she was named director of the agency's Scattered Site program which are used to house homeless families on Cape Cod.
When it comes to HAC’s homeless programs, the agency’s shelters – Angel House, Carriage House and The Village at Cataumet – tend to receive the most publicity. For that reason, many may not know that HAC also runs a scattered site program that essentially operates the same as its shelters. The primary difference is instead of a congregate setting, homeless families are placed in individual units in Barnstable and Yarmouth that HAC rents with funding provided by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development.
In recent years, HAC has placed an emphasis on this program that started with an expansion from 10 to 17 units, following a request from the state. This spring, HAC continued that growth, tapping longtime staffer Katie Geissler to serve as the director of HAC’s scattered sites. Geissler had previously served at HAC’s Carriage House shelter for five years, the last two as its director.
In her new role, Geissler oversees two case managers, Antoinette Bills and Geoffrey Gagnon, who are also recent additions to the program. “With the case managers, their ultimate goal is housing,” Geissler said. “They work with families to help them become self-sufficient and look for housing to get them out of shelter.”
The state refers families into the units at which point Geissler and her staff will begin to work with them, providing each with the services they need to eventually transition into permanent housing. Cindi Maule, HAC’s director of leased housing and family services, said the average stay for clients in scattered sites is typically between six and eight months.
Maule said that part of Geissler’s responsibilities are to provide more structure to this program. It’s a challenge that Geissler is relishing as she helps those most in need. “I believe there is hope in everybody,” she said, noting that those in HAC’s scattered sites have gone “through trauma and I’m a big believer you can overcome those things. You’ve got to believe in yourself and have the power to do it.”
Geissler and her staff are assisting in that effort as they ensure each client in the program has access to the services they need to eventually move out of shelter. Many attend workshops which focus on basic life skills, budgeting, stabilization, parenting and nutrition. They also are provided counseling and medical care, all as they are connected to employment and housing opportunities.
“I hope I can instill and empower them to believe in themselves that they can have a better life for them and their children,” Geissler said, of her program’s ultimate goal.
|Telethon host Matt Pitta from Cape Cod Broadcasting Media interviews Lin Rohr, the director of HAC's Angel House shelter. Pitta will be returning, along with WCAI's Mindy Todd, to serve as hosts of this year's telethon.
For the 13th straight year, HAC will be holding its Shelter Cape Cod Telethon during the season of giving. The telethon, which takes place on Thursday, December 8, from 5 to 9 pm, at the Cape Cod Community Media Center in Dennis Port, helps place a spotlight on the region’s housing and homelessness issues. It also raises funds to support HAC’s homelessness programs which include 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, homelessness prevention for individuals and families and its outreach services for the homeless living in the streets and woods of Cape Cod.
Laura Reckford, HAC’s director of community relations and fundraising, said the lineup will be similar to last year’s, featuring HAC staff, board members and volunteers as well as public officials and representatives from a variety of businesses and organizations that are working to address homelessness and improve housing on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
Those interested in sponsoring the telethon should contact Deanna Bussiere, HAC’s event and resource development coordinator, at email@example.com or at 508-771-5400, ext. 270.
HAC also relies on volunteers to serve as phone fundraisers to ensure the agency can continue to address the region’s homeless issues. The event is ideal for businesses or groups, serving as a way for them to give back to the community in a meaningful way during the holiday season. To sign up, click the Santa icon below.
Shelter Cape Cod Telethon,
|Both HAC staff and The Village at Cataumet staff and clients were joined by representatives from Cape Cod Senior Residences during a dedication for the shelter's new playground last month.
What do you get when you combine two swings, a climbing cargo net, a slide and a faux rock wall? A whole lot of fun.
That is exactly what kids at The Village at Cataumet have been having since a new playground arrived at the shelter in September. The set was paid for thanks to a donation from Cape Cod Senior Residences, an independent and assisted living community in Pocasset, following a casino night in June which raised more than $1,600 for the HAC shelter. Residents at the assisted living facility decided they wanted to use that money towards filling a need at The Village at Cataumet.
“They [the kids] love it,” said shelter director Paula Mallard, during a playground dedication in the beginning of October. “It is awesome. It’s really sturdy and going to last us a long time.”
|Children enjoying the new playground at The Village at Cataumet.
Mallard said that it’s been a few years since the shelter had a usable playground. The last one was made of wood and had to be removed because it became unsafe for children.
As a small contingent of children swung, slid and climbed the playground, Michael LeBrun, executive director for Cape Cod Senior Residences, spoke about why this was an important gift for his organization. “I think it is great to be able to help the kids and be a part of the community,” he said.
The Village at Cataumet,
Cape Cod Senior Residences,