Housing Assistance Corporation Blog

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.”

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Tags: homelessness, Derick Bussiere, NOAH Shelter, HAC

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

Annual Meeting Celebrates Those Making a Difference

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Mon, May 16, 2016 @ 12:47 PM
Annual_Meeting_16-Web6.jpg2016 Volunteer of the Year Ron Winner (second from left) with Tony (from left) and Lorraine Shepley and Ron's wife Wendy Winner.

Nearly five years ago Diane Barry came to Cape Cod at one of the lowest points in her life. She was homeless and struggling with substance abuse.

Her destination was HAC’s Angel House shelter in Hyannis. “I was looking for a new start,” Barry told nearly 300 attendees at HAC’s 42nd Annual Meeting & Volunteer Recognition last month. “At Angel House I got the support that I needed and I was loved when I couldn’t love myself.”

Today, Barry is happily married, with three children, including a daughter she was able to reconnect with thanks to the support of Angel House. She will be five years sober in November. And she lives in a HAC-owned apartment in Hyannis, calling herself “blessed to be able to stay here on Cape Cod.”

Last year, HAC helped hundreds of people not unlike Barry, making a difference in their lives when they needed it most. At its Annual Meeting, HAC took time to honor those assisting the agency in that effort.

“We help everybody,” CEO Rick Presbrey said in speaking about the importance of HAC’s work. “We spend time with them. We care about them. We try to show them they are important to us and they are important to themselves and they have lots of potential and there are solutions to their problems.”

To that end, 784 volunteers donated 17,835 hours assisting staff in showing clients that they matter. One of those volunteers, Ron Winner, has done so by preparing meals at HAC’s NOAH Shelter and for mothers and their children at Angel House.

HAC recognized Winner with the Volunteer of the Year Award. “Ron shows other people he cares and that gives them hope,” HAC’s Deanna Bussiere said in presenting the award. “Sometimes hope is just what people need to try to change their lives.”

A Challenge to Others

This year’s Business Partner Award was given to Bill and Linda Zammer, owners of Cape Cod Restaurants, who have been longtime supporters of HAC. Mr. Zammer challenged other businesses to step up and help those in need. “That is what it’s all about,” he said. “It’s about us doing it.”

In presenting John and Kathy Ohman, co-founders of FORWARD (Friends Or Relatives With Autism And Related Disabilities) with the 2016 Human Services Partner Award, HAC’s Housing Development Project Manager Kate Ferreira said, “What I admire most about Kathy and John, among other things, is their commitment to their community and their perseverance in seeing things through.” HAC is working with FORWARD to build housing for adults with autism or related disabilities in Dennis. Two of the Ohmans three children are on the autism spectrum.

Annual_Meeting_16-Web11.jpgJohn  (left) and Kathy Ohman (second from right) with HAC CEO Rick Presbrey and HAC Housing Development Project Manager Kate Ferreira. The Ohmans were the recipients of the 2016 Human Services Award.

The Transitional Living Center Committee was the recipient of the Make a Difference Award. The committee is working to find a new site for the living center that will eventually replace HAC’s NOAH Shelter. Its members include Chair Elizabeth Wurfbain, executive director of the Hyannis Main Street Business Improvement District (BID); Deborah Krau, vice president of the Greater Hyannis Civic Association; Barnstable Police Chief Paul MacDonald; Heidi Nelson, CEO of Duffy Health Center; Paula Schnepp, the regional network coordinator for the Cape & Islands Regional Network to Address Homelessness; Abbott “Sid” Davidson of the Lyndon Paul Lorusso Charitable Foundation; and HAC’s Rick Presbrey.

“We all wanted to recognize this group for the work they’ve done so far and say, you know, let’s keep this going,” Presbrey said. “Let’s keep plowing along and get it done and let’s get something we’re all happy with.”

The meeting ended with HAC paying tribute to former employee and volunteer Mitzi Holmes who passed away at the end of last year. Mitzi’s sister-in-law Margaret and sister Johanna were in attendance with the latter proudly saying, “my sister talked nonstop about HAC and her passion for your work.”

Click this link to see more photos of this year's Annual Meeting & Volunteer Recognition. 

Tags: HAC Annual Meeting, Annual Meeting, NOAH Shelter, Housing on Cape Cod, The Transitional Living Center, Transitional Living Center of Cape Cod Committee

Crane Appliance Donates Refrigerator to NOAH Shelter

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Fri, May 06, 2016 @ 12:49 PM


NOAH_Refrigerator1-small.jpgCrane Appliance's Eddy Guerrero and Angel Medina deliver a new refrigerator to the NOAH Shelter in March. 

Imagine having a refrigerator that sometimes stopped working. On the women’s side of the NOAH Shelter, staff and guests didn’t have to imagine because it was a reality.

“I’d get calls that it just wasn’t working,” said shelter director Greg Bar. “You’d have food in there warming up. The milk would be turning to cottage cheese.”

So in January, Bar put out a request for a new refrigerator that went to HAC staff. Deanna Bussiere, HAC’s resource development coordinator, reached out to several contacts to see if anyone would be willing to donate one.

In March, that request was answered thanks to the generosity of Crane Appliance in Falmouth, which donated a brand new, black refrigerator to the shelter. As delivery drivers Angel Medina and Eddy Guerrero worked to unload the appliance from their truck, Bar and Jan Rogers, direct care staff at the shelter, commented on how sorely needed the refrigerator was needed.

“This is very generous,” Bar said. “You know it sounds silly, but when people donate something really nice or new like this to the shelter, the people here feel a little more valued.”

This type of philanthropy is not out of the ordinary for Bob and Paula Crane, owners of Crane Appliance, who regularly support local schools on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard. After receiving Bussiere’s letter and a follow-up phone call, Bob Crane said, “I felt like this was the right thing to do… You know at the end of the day it is about giving back to the community.”

Tags: homelessness, Philanthropy, NOAH Shelter, donations, Crane Appliance

Fifth Grader Gives Back to NOAH Shelter

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Fri, Apr 22, 2016 @ 01:17 PM
NOAH_Blessing_Bags_Cropped1.jpgRyan (from left), Jeff, Renee and Kristine Monast with NOAH Shelter Director Greg Bar.

When 10-year-old Renee Monast of Wareham, was writing her Christmas letter to Santa this past December, she did something unusual. She thought of those in need.

“She didn’t put anything on there for herself,” her mother Kristine said. “She only asked for things for the needy.”

So when Christmas came, Santa delivered a bag full of practical items – toothpaste, deodorant, lotion – that homeless men and women could use. Renee then filled up plastic bags for 10 men and 10 women that she brought to the NOAH Shelter during her school vacation in February. Inside each was a handwritten note from Renee.

She called the gifts blessing bags.

Joined by her father Jeff and brother Ryan, 12, Renee handed them out to those at NOAH, but not before shelter director Greg Bar introduced her and explained what she had done.

Several NOAH guests shouted out, “thank you,” and afterwards Bar commended the fifth grader attending Hyannis’ St. Francis Xavier Preparatory School for her thoughtfulness. “You know when I was 10 or 11 it was never even in my mind to help other people,” Bar said.

Her mother said she has come to expect this type of charitableness from Renee. “She’s always been a giver,” Kristine said.

“It makes me feel good,” Renee said, as to why she does it. And because she did not have enough bags for everyone at the shelter, she promised to come back with more.

A few minutes after the Monasts had left, John, a 47-year-old homeless man staying at the shelter, marveled at Renee’s generosity. “The world needs more kids like that,” he said. “For a child to come in and want to give to the less fortunate, that is phenomenal. You don’t see that nowadays.”

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Tags: Philanthropy, NOAH Shelter, donations, blessing bags

Rick Presbrey's Editorial: A Moral Imperative

Posted by Rick Presbrey on Fri, Apr 15, 2016 @ 04:59 PM


There are about 400 people each year who spend one or more nights at the NOAH Shelter. On an average night there are about 50 people staying in the facility. My guess, and it is only a guess, on an average night, and it does vary by season, there are about 35 people sleeping outside in the Hyannis vicinity.

For about the past 18 months, I have been meeting at least every other week as a part of a group (click here for more info) seeking to move the facility out of downtown Hyannis. The group has come together around a mission to provide expanded and improved wrap-around services for clients and to reduce the negative effect of homelessness on Hyannis businesses. Excellent progress has already been made by opening the facility during the day and developing policies and procedures which improve the quality, quantity and consistency of services. In addition, plans have been made for improved operations within the new facility.

For the past several months, the committee has been researching possible sites for the new facility mostly in the greater Hyannis area. Hyannis is the preferred area because it is the only place on the Cape where all services are within walking distance. In addition, successful permitting for the new location is more likely in the Town of Barnstable because the town wants the facility to move out of the center of the downtown area. One roadblock after another has hindered the effort, including federal regulations for any future funding requiring that the facility not be within 2,500 feet of airport property. Our search guidelines have eliminated all sites near schools and sites in or abutting a residential neighborhood. Recently, objections to at least one site that the committee has agreed on have come from town hall. There are still a couple of sites in play, but no likely site has yet been found.

The search for money to fund the purchase and construction costs is also underway. Eventually, we believe that funding will come from some combination of public and private sources.

This is and has been a very difficult process. What makes me think it might succeed is the high level of commitment of the committee members. What will stop the project is objections from those who want to see it fail because they either insist that the facility be out of town or that the shelter close its doors altogether. Up until now the HAC board has taken the position that providing this sanctuary for the neediest of our citizens is a “moral imperative.”

If our efforts are successful, services will be dramatically increased, including outreach, and the negative effect on Hyannis will be greatly reduced. I am sure of it.

Tags: homelessness, NOAH Shelter, The Transitional Living Center

HAC Works to Find New Location for Shelter

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Mon, Apr 11, 2016 @ 01:27 PM
Noah_Shelter-8538.jpgAs community leaders work to find a new location for a new shelter, HAC's NOAH Shelter remains committed to serving those most in need on Cape Cod and the Islands.

HAC continues to move forward with efforts to identify potential sites away from downtown Hyannis that could be used for a new homeless shelter that will eventually replace NOAH on Winter Street.

“I’m all for it because of two things,” HAC CEO Rick Presbrey told the agency at its all-staff meeting last month. “Our present facility is completely inadequate and two, we’re too visible.”

Presbrey is part of a small group of local leaders who sit on The Transitional Living Center of Cape Cod Committee that is working collaboratively to find a new location for a homeless shelter. Members of the committee include Barnstable Police Chief Paul MacDonald; Heidi Nelson, CEO of Duffy Health Center; Abbott “Sid” Davidson of the Lyndon Paul Lorusso Charitable Foundation; Deborah Krau, vice president of the Greater Hyannis Civic Association; Paula Schnepp, the regional network coordinator for the Cape & Islands Regional Network to Address Homelessness; and Elizabeth Wurfbain, executive director of the Hyannis Main Street Business Improvement District (BID).

“Moving into a less visible location is a good thing for us, a good thing for the clients and a good thing for the town,” Presbrey said, explaining that the move is being precipitated as a way to bolster the businesses in Hyannis. 

He said HAC has a preferred site, but “I don’t know if everyone will agree with it. Will town counsel and will the town manager agree with it? And can we obtain it? Any site is going to be controversial.”

Despite those difficulties, he stressed that it is imperative that this gets done. Presbrey estimated that it will take at least three to four years to site, permit, construct or renovate a current structure to replace NOAH, which has been at its current location for more than three decades. “For 30 years, we have provided sanctuary, showers, beds and meals for the neediest of our population and done it successfully,” Presbrey said.

Today, Presbrey said NOAH “has never been better or healthier than it is now… There are lots of good and great things happening there.”

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Tags: homelessness, NOAH Shelter, Transitional Living Center of Cape Cod Committee

Cotuit Church Gives Back to the NOAH SHelter

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Thu, Mar 17, 2016 @ 10:21 AM
Frank_Hallice_Bill_Johnson.jpgFrank Hallice (left) and Bill Johnson spent a few hours hanging new blinds at the NOAH Shelter in January. The blinds were paid for by the Cotuit Federated Church. 

Sometimes the smallest acts of charity can have the largest impact.

And so it is with the Cotuit Federated Church which has made minor upgrades to the NOAH Shelter in recent months that have helped improve the comfort of those staying there.

It started in November, when Bill Johnson of Mashpee was joined by several other church parishioners in putting up 60 coat hooks over all the beds at the shelter.

Johnson returned to the shelter in January when he was accompanied by Frank Hallice, also of Mashpee, as they installed 20 new blinds over the windows.

Greg Bar, NOAH director, expressed gratitude for the church’s willingness to assist the shelter and its guests in such a way. “It seems like this is a small kind of thing, but having blinds on the windows is a privacy issue and helps create a feeling of safety,” Bar said. “I think so highly of them for doing this.”

Both Johnson and Hallice deflected such praise, saying it was their way of giving back.

“I do it because I want to,” Hallice explained. “I don’t expect anything back. I guess it’s in my nature to help… Does it make you feel good? Yes. You’d be inhuman if you said it didn’t. It’s like shoveling an old lady’s walkway. You do it because you should.”

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Tags: homelessness, NOAH Shelter, volunteering, HAC Volunteers

Spreading Joy at the NOAH Shelter

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Fri, Feb 19, 2016 @ 04:58 PM
NOAH_Christmas-1.jpgFor the second straight year, Santa Claus, Scott Dutra and his daughters Gabriella (left), 16, and Miranda, 17, spent their Christmas morning at the NOAH Shelter. 

Of all the holidays, Christmas may be the most joyous. But it can also be one of the saddest, particularly for those without a home. 

That may explain why Greg Bar has spent the past two at the NOAH Shelter, giving a little joy for those who need it most.

Instead of his usual position as facility director at the shelter, Bar assumed another title on this day – entertainer, playing the guitar and singing a medley of holiday songs joined by a handful of volunteers that included Santa Claus, Scott Dutra and his children Gabriella, 16, and Miranda, 17, of Centerville, Rachel Todoroff of Hyannis, Michele Colley of Centerville and Paloma and Dave McLardy of Hyannis.

He started with “Go Tell it on the Mountain” and over the next 30 minutes was joined by those in the shelter – some singing, some dancing, some clapping - before ending with “Angels We’ve Heard on High.”

And then, Bar addressed those he sees on a daily basis, letting them know they would be receiving gifts which included an assortment of toiletries and clothes, as well as $100 each from an anonymous donor. “I want to say that this is an expression of our acknowledgement that you are trying,” Bar told them.

He was speaking to those like Jeananne, 55, who has been without a home since last summer. “It is embarrassing because people treat you different when you’re homeless,” she said, before adding that, “My faith always brings me through when I feel like I should just give up.”

That is something she refuses to do; her dream is to one day open her own catering business. “I’ve got a lot of ideas and am a really good cook,” she said, perhaps receiving a little boost of confidence on this Christmas day from the kindness of complete strangers like the Dutras and the McLardys.

“You are humbled knowing there are people out there that are less fortunate than you,” said Scott, who has participated in the annual event the past two years. “And it’s nice to be able to give back to the community and show them a little love during the holiday season.”

As Bar put it, the act of charity is what those at the NOAH Shelter need, not only at this time of year, but at this point in their lives. “This gives them a little light in the midst of the darkness,” Bar said.

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Tags: NOAH Shelter

A Stepping Stone to a Better Life

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Tue, Jan 19, 2016 @ 10:30 AM
Peter_Tubbs_1-1.jpgPeter Tubbs (left) sits down with Derick Bussiere, the NOAH Shelter's housing search specialist. 

On the first day of December, Peter Tubbs received an early Christmas present – the keys to a new apartment in Hyannis.

It represented a major stepping stone for the Cape native who had been homeless for the past five years. He finally had a home of his own. “I’ve kind of been bouncing around. You know displaced, homeless,” he said sitting on a bed inside the second floor of HAC’s NOAH Shelter.

The shelter was one of several places he lived as he struggled with substance abuse and the uncertainty of not having a permanent place to call home. “I would stay at friends’ houses. I stayed at my family’s for a few days. I stayed at hotels,” Tubbs said. “Try doing that for a month and you find out you can’t do it because your money runs out and that makes it impossible to get into a place because you’re spending your money on a hotel. But you don’t want to be out on the street.”

The 45-year-old Tubbs first came to NOAH roughly three years ago, describing it as “a scary moment because I had never been in that situation before.”

He stayed for a few months before leaving, eventually returning a second time this year. Because of his problems with addiction, he said the shelter’s new policy of only allowing sober clients to spend a night at the shelter has “made me feel much safer.”

Additionally, he was buoyed by the resources – employment, housing and access to other supportive services – at NOAH. “I feel like they saved my life, really, because I don’t know where I’d be,” Tubbs said. “That’s the truth.”

He termed the NOAH Shelter a “stepping stone” to where he moved into on the first day of December, a single room occupancy home, with seven other men, that has a common area and a shared kitchen and bathroom. He has his own bedroom and is one step closer to where he wants to be.

His future goals are relatively simple and modest. He wants to utilize his college degree in marine affairs and fisheries. “And certainly, I want to continue on the path I’m at in terms of recovery and making sure I don’t end up in a situation where I’m homeless again,” he said.

He credited the NOAH Shelter for giving him another chance. “It feels like I have an opportunity to live again. To have a new life,” he said, just a few hours after he was given the keys to his apartment. “I’m more grateful than I’ve been in a very, very, very long time.”

Following his interview for this story, Tubbs shook hands with the shelter’s housing search specialist Derick Bussiere. “Good luck, man,” Bussiere said, before Tubbs walked out of the facility and towards a new life.

“You can see in his demeanor how he’s changed,” Bussiere said. “This is why we do it. You count your victories… It is a good thing. And then it is on to the next person.”

This past year through the beginning of December, Bussiere said the NOAH Shelter had housed over 130 people like Tubbs, each given a chance to move on with their lives and escape the dangers of homelessness. These are the victories.

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Tags: NOAH Shelter