Housing Assistance Corporation Blog

Post-NOAH: Family Shelters, Outreach, Affordable Housing, All Priorities at HAC

Posted by Rick Presbrey on Sat, Dec 24, 2016 @ 09:45 AM

rick_at_big_fix.jpgMany 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. 

Help End Homelessness

Tags: Homeless on Cape Cod, homelessness, homelessness prevention, HAC, Rick Presbrey, NOAH Shelter

HAC Names Alisa Galazzi as New CEO

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Mon, Dec 12, 2016 @ 11:08 AM

galazzi family.jpgAlisa Galazzi with her husband, Chris, and their three children, Francesca, Michela and Eliana. Alisa will start her now role at HAC on January 3. 

Over 3,000 miles and three time zones separate Los Angeles from Cape Cod, but that West Coast city is where Alisa Galazzi was first exposed to nonprofit work and issues related to housing during the mid-90s. “I started volunteering at an organization, Inner-City Arts, in downtown skid row and they provided free art programming for children there who were homeless,” she said. “Watching the transformation that happened in the lives of those kids and the families was very moving and powerful and intoxicating.”

That was enough to prompt a career shift for Galazzi, who had previously worked in the field of television. Following 9/11, Galazzi and her husband Chris, the current executive director for the Cape Cod Maritime Museum in Hyannis, moved to Cape Cod to be closer to family.

Over the past 15 years, Galazzi has honed her skills and talents as an executive in the nonprofit world – she is currently the Chief Operating Officer for Gosnold on Cape Cod and previously served as the Executive Director for Alzheimer’s Services of Cape Cod & the Islands, all experiences she will draw upon in her newest role: CEO of HAC.

Last month, HAC’s Board of Directors announced the hiring of Galazzi, who lives in Orleans with her husband and their three children Francesca, 15, Michela, 14, and Eliana, 12. “Alisa has the perfect blend of leadership experience, proven skills, and personal passion to build on the great foundation of HAC’s services,” said David Augustinho, chair of HAC’s board of directors.

Galazzi will replace HAC’s current CEO and President Rick Presbrey, who founded the agency in 1974. Presbrey expressed confidence in Galazzi’s ability to lead the agency. “It is probably more important to me than anyone that HAC gets left in good hands,” he said. “Alisa is a very intelligent, well-organized, very talented and committed person.”

Galazzi is looking forward to helping address the region’s affordable housing issues. “Personally, I have seen firsthand how having stable, secure housing in a loved one’s life is literally a game changer,” she said. “This is an expensive place to live where wages are low. We have to think about the Cape from a broader perspective and the needs of our region and our workforce and trying to tie it all together. It is more than housing. It is economic development and it is self-sustainability.”

Tags: HAC, Rick Presbrey, Alisa Galazzi

Editorial: Day One

Posted by Rick Presbrey on Fri, Nov 11, 2016 @ 03:06 PM

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It is Monday morning and the office next to mine is empty. Looking in, there are lots of reminders of previous occupancy. A yellow pad with familiar handwriting. Family pictures not yet removed. Paint rubbed off the wall from the desk chair hitting it as the occupant moved around. The echo of my words, “Hey, Michael” still hangs in the air from my many calls to him for help in solving a problem or for his memory of past events. But he will be in to finish cleaning out his office. Something to look forward to.

After 35 years at HAC, Michael Sweeney retired on Friday. He was the Chief Operating Officer. He was good at a long list of things that I am not good at. And he was always here getting it done.

Can we go on without him? I know we can. People have left before. But it won’t be the same. How do you fill the void of decades of working together with less than five minutes total of even mildly angry words? How do you fill the space inside you that completely trusts someone and depends on that person to be here in all situations? How do you replace the emptiness inside where the steadiness and dependability of a human relationship used to be?

At his retirement party Friday night my wife reported that when talking about Michael, I said that he wasn’t really a friend. I don’t remember saying that but if I did say it I know why. For me a friend is someone you hang around with for the fun and camaraderie you receive from that friendship. In Michael’s case we shared some of that. But 99% of our relationship was about our work at HAC. Yes, we shared social time, sometimes during working hours and sometimes on weekends, but Michael was not central in our social circle and we weren’t part of his. With Michael we worked together every day. We solved problems together every day. We sat in each other’s office every day. We passed in the halls every day. We went to the dump together every Saturday and talked about work most of the time and family some of the time. We spent a lot more hours together than I ever have spent with a “friend.”

There must be another word that describes our relationship. People who serve in the military, particularly in battles, refer to those they were closest to and who they experienced difficult times with as their “buddies.” I have never understood that term, but maybe it applies to Michael and me.We certainly qualify as buddies. The buddy bond will always be there. That comforts me. But I miss his presence now.

You can read more about Michael Sweeney's 35-year career at HAC and his contributions to those we serve by clicking this link.

Tags: HAC, Rick Presbrey, affordable housing, Michael Sweeney

HAC's Michael Sweeney, a 35-Year Career Helping Others

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Thu, Nov 03, 2016 @ 05:36 PM
Michael Sweeney Edited-3.jpgMichael Sweeney reads one of the many cards he received from HAC staff at his retirement luncheon. 

A person’s life is filled with moments that can have a significant impact on their future. For HAC’s Chief Operating Officer Michael Sweeney, one of those moments occurred in 1972 when his younger brother James died due to heroin use. “I’ve never gotten over it and I never will,” Sweeney told his coworkers at a retirement party held for him at the end of last month. “I think that’s been something that’s always been there. And here at HAC we have helped so many people in similar situations… You look around and we’re helping people who have similar struggles and issues every day. Was that part of what attracted me and what kept me here, the human element of that? I think so.”

Eight years after his brother’s death, Sweeney found himself at HAC as a volunteer, installing energy saving products for seniors on Cape Cod. Sweeney arrived at the fledgling agency as a community organizer with VISTA, armed with a bachelor’s degree in history and economics from the University of Massachusetts.

A year after his arrival, Sweeney was hired part-time in the HAC Energy Department, parlaying that into a full-time position at the end of 1981. “I never believed I would be here 35 years later,” Sweeney said.

Just five days after he celebrated his 67th birthday, Sweeney was reflecting on a career that spanned over three decades, supporting HAC in its mission to ensure those on Cape Cod and the islands have access to safe, secure housing.

Nancy Davison, HAC’s vice president of program operations, said it is difficult to quantify Sweeney’s contributions to the agency and those it helps. “There’s so many and they are so diverse,” she said.

A Bit of Everything

Yes, Sweeney oversaw HAC’s contracts, the hiring of new staff, implementing employee benefits and managing finances. But he also did the little things like shoveling snow, fixing fellow coworkers’ cars and conducting general office maintenance.

HAC CEO Rick Presbrey said Sweeney did this in a quiet, unassuming way.

Over the years, Presbrey and Sweeney developed a close bond; they could often be found together on Saturdays, extending their work week an extra day just to help a HAC client in need, all on their own time.

Since 1981, Sweeney and Presbrey had a routine, working together on issues big and small which helped forge HAC into the agency it is today. This month, that routine has been broken as Sweeney starts the next chapter of his life.

In the short term, he and his wife Karen will be traveling to San Francisco for 10 days in November. A longer trip is planned to Switzerland, where Karen’s daughter, Kelsey, lives, and the Canary Islands in December.

Sweeney, who has two sons of his own, Patrick and Sean, anticipated that at some point in mid-January, “I’ll wake up and go, ‘What am I doing? What did I do?’” he laughed, half-jokingly.

Presbrey said that Sweeney’s passion not only for his work, but for his fellow colleagues and those HAC serves will be sorely missed. “You can’t really like this work unless you care about the outcomes and the people we’re helping,” Presbrey said. “Michael certainly has been a person who increasingly over these 35 years has cared more and more. You don’t always see that and it’s really been reassuring for me working next door to him.”

Tags: HAC Energy, Philanthropy, Rick Presbrey, Michael Sweeney

Editorial: A Lot to Be Proud of with NOAH Shelter

Posted by Rick Presbrey on Fri, Oct 07, 2016 @ 03:47 PM

rick_at_big_fix.jpgThirty-two years ago, a representative from a committee within the Town of Barnstable came to my office to ask if HAC would agree to open a shelter in Hyannis for homeless individuals. I remember the moment well. I didn’t want to do it. I asked if other organizations could do it and I was told that the most likely one had refused.

I thought about our mission to help people obtain decent housing and how this was “off mission” and would be a distraction. But my sense that someone needed to do it won out. At that moment and ever since, I have felt a “moral imperative” (a phrase coined by one of our Board members) to provide a safe haven for the neediest of our brothers and sisters.

I feel great pride in what we have been able to accomplish. For 32 years, 365 nights per year, we have provided a safe place for people to sleep, take a shower, and receive two nutritious meals a day. In the worst of weather we have kept people alive.

Thousands of volunteers from all across the Cape have helped in dozens of ways. An evening meal has been prepared by volunteers almost every night, serving more than a half a million meals over more than three decades.

We have put three additions on the building where our offices had previously been in order to improve our ability to provide a variety of services. We have made it possible for men and women to be entirely separate, including separate entrances.

In recent times, we opened a day center, keeping the facility open 24 hours a day rather than only at night. We have placed approximately 3,000 of our guests in permanent housing as well as many in part- or full-time jobs.

Perhaps most important of all, we have engaged everyone who was willing in discussions on how to improve their lives by addressing their biggest problems. Thanks to a great staff and leadership and the tireless work of a half dozen committed people in the community, NOAH is the best it has ever been, which is very satisfying for me and I hope for all those who work and volunteer at NOAH.

Locally, we have absorbed lots of criticism, but we have kept the faith and kept on working, doing our best to provide a safe, stable and decent emergency shelter.

But change is always inevitable. About six months ago another agency came forward and expressed interest in taking over the operation of NOAH. The organization operates other shelters and has a fantastic track record in raising money. They are convincing in their belief that they can do the job well. The HAC Board has encouraged me to consider this option of turning over the day-to-day running of the shelter.

The arguments for making the change are that the operation of the NOAH Shelter, and raising the money we need to stay open, takes an inordinate amount of time of many who work at HAC, including myself, and that if we were to give up the day-to-day operation we could develop and raise money for a more comprehensive approach to getting many more homeless individuals in to housing, which is central to our mission. There is a decision to be made. For me it has been a difficult one, especially since it is likely I will retire within the next 18 months and I want to hand off as doable a job as I can to my successor.

By the time you read this our Board will have made this decision. My recommendation will be to move ahead with the transfer. I am at peace with my recommendation because, if this change goes forward, we can do more to house homeless individuals and we will be leaving this work in good hands. Thirty-two years is a long time. I think we have a lot to be proud of.

Read more about the NOAH Shelter decision by clicking this link.

Tags: Homeless on Cape Cod, homelessness, Rick Presbrey, NOAH Shelter, Catholic Social Services

HAC's Impact Measured in Handprints

Posted by Chris Kazarian on Fri, Sep 09, 2016 @ 01:09 PM
retouched_sign.jpgAngel House clients give a special thank you to HAC CEO Rick Presbrey (right). 

In sheer numbers, it’s estimated that HAC has helped roughly 160,000 people over the past 42 years. That number is so large it is difficult to put it into perspective.

In the middle of July, HAC founder Rick Presbrey gained a little insight into just that, discovering exactly what HAC has meant to 13 mothers and their children currently staying at HAC’s Angel House shelter when they presented him with a banner emblazoned with each of their handprints. Underneath the handprints were their names, representing a small group of people that HAC has influenced in a positive way through the work it does at the homeless shelter.

The women gave Presbrey the banner at an annual summer barbecue organized by volunteer Ron Winner of Centerville, his wife, Wendy Winner, and their friend Jon Weisblatt of Harwich.

Upon receiving the gift, Presbrey expressed his gratitude to the women. “I very much appreciate this, but the fact is the work here is about helping people and about creating opportunities for people to do things with their lives,” he told them. “If I’ve done anything worthwhile, it’s because people like you essentially are given an opportunity to make a change in their lives and that’s really important. It can be done. Things can be dramatically improved and I’m just hoping and praying you guys can do it.”

Afterwards, Angel House facility director Lin Rohr spoke about what Presbrey has meant to the shelter and the women it serves. “Even though the population changes, his support doesn’t,” she said. “It is consistent. It is kind. It is caring. He believes in them and they know it.” 

Donate to Angel House

Tags: homelessness, Rick Presbrey, Angel House, Ron Winner, Lin Rohr

Summer on Cape Cod

Posted by Rick Presbrey on Thu, Aug 18, 2016 @ 10:13 AM

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I am not taking any travelling vacation this summer. Work is especially busy because we are trying to fill three key positions: the Director of Energy Programs; the Director of Homeless Prevention Services; and the Director of Housing Development. We also have a new COO, Walter Phinney, who started two weeks ago. The result is that I am trying to take just an occasional vacation day—staying local—this summer. That’s how I ended up as a day tripper on Martha’s Vineyard on a recent Monday.

I’ve never spent time on the Vineyard as a tourist, but I’ve been there on business over the years. I’ve have always planned my trips for the early morning hours so that I can be back at my desk by noon.

HAC has built affordable housing on the Vineyard. Back in the early 1980s, HAC partnered with Island Elderly Housing on a Martha’s Vineyard development called Hillside Village, which had 40 rental units for seniors. It is the only multi-family project HAC has been involved with. HAC also built 15 homeownership units on the Vineyard as part of a Self-Help Ownership project.

Last fall, HAC opened our first “office” on the Vineyard. Our part-time staffers share space in the Dukes County office building. They provide much-needed assistance to Vineyarders looking for affordable housing. I know the Vineyard to be a place where the challenge of affordable housing is even greater than it is on the Cape, not least because of the staggering price of real estate.

Last month, my wife Melanie, my son Paul and I, with another couple, took the day and went to the Vineyard as tourists. We rented a Jeep and proceeded, after a quick breakfast in Oak Bluffs, to begin to drive the perimeter of the island. We headed to Edgartown and following our noses and signs, headed to the Chappaquiddick ferry. For $28 round-trip, the five of us and our car rolled on to the three-car-ferry for the three-minute ride across. We satisfied our curiosities about the Ted affair and followed signs to the Mytoi Japanese gardens a few minutes away. The 45-minute walk through the gardens was fascinating and pleasingly invigorating.

Our next stop, a fair drive away, was something I have wanted to see for many years, the cliffs at Aquinnah. Our group was hungry by now, but there wasn’t much on the drive and the trinket shops at the site didn’t offer much hope. We walked up the short hill and enjoyed the breathtaking view of the cliffs and the Native American story that went with it. Part way back to the car I checked the snack bar only to find that it was a full-fledged restaurant with outside seating overlooking the beach far below and the ocean. We all enjoyed our lunch and marveled at our location with the “best view in the world!”

After lunch we headed back to the ferry, enjoying the rural country and farm views. We took the 5 pm boat back to Falmouth, a very thrilled, happy and tired fivesome. And I got to see a side of the Vineyard I had never seen before.

Tags: Martha's Vineyard, Rick Presbrey, affordable housing

Editorial: Learning To Do Things I Never Thought Possible

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

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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

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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

Rick Presbrey's Editorial: A Gift

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

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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