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HAC in the News

Census measures Cape's homeless population

Posted on Fri, Apr 15, 2011

For the fourth year in a row, the number of homeless people on Cape Cod continued to go down, according to an annual homeless census.

The number of people living outdoors, in hotel rooms, in shelters and transitional housing was 493 when a team of homeless advocates and volunteers braved the cold, snowy weather on Jan. 26 to do the homeless count.

That number is nearly half the people counted just three years earlier, but those who work with the Cape's homeless population say the numbers can be misleading.

Conducted in a single day to meet federal guidelines, the methodology has been criticized by outreach workers because it often misses the true number of homeless people, some of whom may have found shelter on that particular day.

"The numbers are just a snapshot on that day and although down slightly we obviously still have a very serious challenge ending homelessness on Cape Cod," said Melissa Carney, director of Client Self-Sufficiency Services at the Community Action Committee.

This year's count found 21 fewer homeless than in January 2010. The much higher years prior to 2010 included people in programs such as the CHAMP Homes, which house people on School Street in Hyannis. While many of the residents would be homeless without it, CHAMP Homes is not considered a homeless shelter. Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development changed the rules, so places like CHAMP House are no longer factored in the count.

Also, there was bad weather on the day of the counts in both 2010 and 2011, which probably contributed to the low numbers, said Estelle Fritzinger of the Community Action Committee, one of the organizations participating in the count.

Based on a look at the many shelters run by Housing Assistance Corp., it's unclear if there are fewer homeless people on the Cape.

Allison Rice, vice president of operations at the housing agency, said the NOAH shelter in Hyannis did not fill all its 60 beds until March, when the shelter reached capacity a few times.

The family shelters have been averaging about one-third to one-half occupied by Cape Cod families, Rice said. Those numbers are rising, as the weather gets warmer, she said. The state refers off-Cape families to the HAC shelters, which often keeps them full, Rice said.

Rice said the numbers at the HAC shelters are too variable to show any real trend. But if there are fewer homeless on the Cape, it's because young families are moving off-Cape, she said.

And it's because of some good state and local programs. A few years ago, the state moved the homeless programs from the Department of Transitional Assistance to the Department of Housing and Community Development, Rice said. This makes sense because now homeless programs are controlled by the agency that deals with housing, she said.

Locally in the past few years, CHAMP Homes expanded, taking more vulnerable people off the streets. And a team of homeless people formed a group home called Homeless Not Hopeless Inc. They live in two homes on Ocean Street.

Fewer Homeles

2008: 932

2009: 806

2010: 514

2011: 493

The 2010 and 2011 counts do not include people placed in permanent supportive housing.

Photo exhibit offers glimpse at life of the homeless

Posted on Wed, Apr 06, 2011

About 35 photos will hang on a wall at the Cotuit Center for the Arts that, combined with quotations from conversations with some of the people featured in them, will offer a glimpse into very unexpected lives.

With hard work and help, FSS grad builds a future

Posted on Fri, Apr 01, 2011

Ramona Peters, who lives in the new Kimber Woods neighborhood near the YMCA and is the single mother of a teenage daughter, grew up in West Barnstable and recently finished her five-year enrollment in the Housing Assistance Corporation program known as Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS). At the end of February, Peters received a check for more than $5,700 from HAC, which was money that was put in escrow for her while she studied and gained work experience.

More tough cuts predicted for next state budget

Posted on Tue, Mar 29, 2011

Meeting with community advocates and activists in Hyannis for a budget forum on March 25, Cape Cod's legislative delegation, led by Senate President Therese Murray and State Senator Dan Wolf, offered an honest if sobering assessment of what's in store for the coming fiscal year.

"This fiscal year will certainly be one of the most difficult we have seen so far, but the Commonwealth, unlike many other states, is well on its way to recovering from this worldwide recession and faring much better than most states," Murray said. "While the nearly $2 billion gap between revenue and expenses means that funding for crucial programs may be slightly less than last year, I will work to ensure that no one program or line item is disproportionately cut as we move forward in the budget debate."

Senator Wolf took the opportunity to thank those assembled at the headquarters of the Community Action Committee for Cape Cod and the Islands "for providing amazing services to our community and the Commonwealth," adding that cuts in human service funding hurt both those who need help most, and those providing it.

"You're part of the middle class we keep talking about that is losing its buying power," he added. "We need to get on a trajectory so that five to ten years from now, we've solved these funding problems and even in off years, we can do what we need to do."

Joining Murray and Wolf at the forum and adding additional perspectives were State Representatives Sarah Peake (D-Provincetown), Cleon Turner (D-Dennis), Demetrius Atsalis (D-Barnstable), Randy Hunt (R-East Sandwich), and David Vieira (R-Falmouth).

Murray noted that she is "very concerned" that the Department of Mental Health in particular has taken "deep cuts" in the last three years, and hopes to keep further reductions to a minimum. But every human service program is likely to feel the affects, she said.

Those attending included BL Hathaway of the Tri-County Collaborative for Oral Health Excellence, who hoped that funding for dental care such as fillings and root canals could be returned for adults receiving public assistance.

"I wish I could, but I can't make that promise," said Murray.

Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce CEO Wendy Northcross wondered whether casinos, if created, might ease the budget crisis.

The answer: With specifics of any proposal still uncertain, and a budget that needs to be in place by the end of June, not for this coming year at the least.

Barnstable County Commissioner Sheila Lyons made a strong pitch to the delegation for state support to help address Cape Cod's wastewater problems, while Commissioner William Doherty urged funding for workforce development boards to help people qualify for good jobs, and Commissioner Mary Pat Flynn drew attention to the county's need to address CMED, the emergency medical call-in system. Former state Representative Ruth Provost, who now runs the Boys and Girls Club of Cape Cod, reported that funding for her organization has decreased dramatically in recent years, but credited the legislature with "doing its best" in tough circumstances.

Other organizations represented included Cape Cod Child Development, Housing Assistance Corporation, Cape Cod Healthcare, Duffy Health Center, and the Harwich and Chatham school districts (soon to regionalize into the Monomoy School District).

Wolf noted that as a freshman Senator and someone with a strong business background, he arrived at the State House in January looking to see if public tax funds are being used wisely.

"Most of the money I see being spent is being spent well," he said. "It's really a situation where we don't have the necessary revenue."

Cathy Finn happy at Housing Assistance Corp.

Posted on Fri, Mar 04, 2011

Mention the name Cathy Finn and you’ll find many associate it with the Cape Cod Sports Report, a popular newspaper operated by Finn and her late husband Frank for more than a decade.

With the Report now a fond memory, Finn has spent the past two-plus years delighting in a new position with her former employer, Housing Assistance Corporation, where Finn is the Foreclosure Intake Specialist.

“I’m the first person to talk to people when they call,” Finn said. That suits her just fine since it is she who starts folks on the path to getting their housing lives back on track when mortgage problems arise.

While working in a public service-based industry is old hat for Finn, who previously worked for HAC in another capacity, her present position brings her a great deal of pleasure.

That pleasure comes not only from the assistance she provides people as part of her work for HAC, but also from being part of a team of people devoted to helping people cope with financial setbacks.

“The people here are so wonderful,” Finn said of her HAC colleagues. “The staff are probably the most dedicated people I’ve ever worked with.”

Finn is the beginning of a chain of assistance that involves helping people figure out how to save their homes, or, if that’s not possible, empowering them to move forward into different housing.

A call to Finn often results in myriad possibilities for the caller, including an assignment with a HAC counselor who works with homeowners to navigate the foreclosure process.

“Our counselors are fabulous,” Finn said. “They are so experienced.”

Finn appreciates that she and her colleagues do their best to help ease the stress and anxiety a foreclosure situation can create.

“The families we work with, they walk in upset and confused,” Finn said. “Our staff helps focus them to find the best solutions for them. We help them through their frustrations, and the counselors support them through the whole process no matter what happens.”

HAC also offers a variety of courses on topics such as homebuyer education, financial literacy, rebuilding credit, and being a smart tenant.

Finn also noted that HAC is a place for people to turn when looking for a home, since HAC is a licensed real estate agency that provides not only buyer and seller-broker programs, but can also educate first-time buyers about Barnstable County’s Home Loan Program.

“The beautiful thing is that if we sell a house, the money goes back into HAC,” Finn said.

Knowing that HAC is capable of empowering and assisting people across the Cape and from all aspects of the financial spectrum is one of the main reasons Finn appreciates her job.

Public service, she said, is in her blood, so much so that her two children, Sarah, set to graduate this year from U-Mass Amherst, and Scott, a freshman at Barnstable High School, remember tagging along with their mother as tots to homeless shelters where she was working.

“I could be out making tons of money, but they know,” Finn said. “They understand. They’ve never known anything else.”

In fact, during a financially tight time not long after husband Frank’s death, Cathy found herself reminding her children about the need for frugality, only to have her youngest remind her that they already had everything they needed.

“We talk about doing for the community,” Finn said. “It’s a given in our household.”
The one aspect of her life away from HAC that Finn misses, other than Frank, is writing.

Prior to Frank’s death in 2007, Finn wrote an offbeat sports column for the Sports Report, taking over her husband’s “Frankly Speaking” column after he passed away.

“All the time something really offbeat will happen in the sports world and I think, ‘Oh! What can I write about that?’” Finn said. “Then I remember that I don’t write about that anymore.”

The good news for Finn, and fans of her work, is that she’ll soon be back in action on the Sports page of the Patriot with a new monthly column.

Meanwhile, there are phones ringing at HAC; people in need of the steady guidance of Finn and her HAC friends.

“That little room has so much going on,” Finn said. “And that’s just one little section of the company. It is a place that everyone can come to.

Click here to read Cathy's first column in the Barnstable Patriot.

'Bachelorette' contestant raises money for NOAH Center

Posted on Sun, Feb 20, 2011

HYANNIS — Julie Zaks had to admit a lunch date with hunky Dennis resident and former "Bachelorette" contestant Chris Lambton felt "surreal."

Zaks, of Dorchester, won the lunch in a raffle after donating $90 to the 7th annual NOAH Telethon, a fundraiser for the Hyannis homeless shelter, in December.

Lambton, 33, was the last of 25 candidates to be rejected by Ali Fedotowsky in Bora Bora during last season's reality show "The Bachelorette." The owner of E. Lambton Landscaping has been making himself useful to many charitable groups post-show.

A date with Lambton also is one of the prizes offered at an online silent auction to benefit the Ellie Fund, an organization helping breast cancer patients.

Attention ladies, bidding lasts until March 11!

At The Naked Oyster on Main Street in Hyannis on Saturday, Lambton reflected on the life-changing year that began with a landscaping customer from Yarmouth, who nominated him for the show.

"I was landscaping at this woman's house and we were talking," said the blue-eyed, broad-shouldered bachelor.

She happened to be a big fan of ABC's reality show, "The Bachelorette," and asked him whether she could take his picture and nominate him.

The woman, who Lambton called Michelle from New Jersey and Yarmouth, made a convincing case that he was a sweet, small town guy who worked as a teacher in New York City. He returned to Dennis to help when his mother became ill with Multi System Atrophy, a motor neuron disease with symptoms similar to ALS. She died in 2008.

Lambton's story pulled on heart strings, and his looks didn't hurt either.

When he got the first call from ABC, Lambton declined. He said he had no desire for his private life to become public.

But he relented and went through three months of filming, a strange time being sequestered with the other contestants, and allowed no access to friends, family, newspapers or television.

Lambton nearly won, but Fedotowsky ultimately picked Roberto Martinez, to whom she's now engaged.

Then Lambton emerged from the reality show bubble, rejected by one bachelorette but beloved by others.

Many others.

"It's bizarre," he said. "A year ago, I was just here on Cape Cod working with my brother. I was nobody. Now," he laughs, "I was in an airport the other day and a girl came up to me and asked to her have picture taken with me. It's definitely been life-changing."

He does have a girlfriend from Dallas, Texas, he said. They met in October when he was in North Carolina helping out at another charity event, the Jimmy V Celebrity Golf Classic.

Lambton didn't want to go into details about his new squeeze.

But he did say she's not the jealous type. She understands all these dates are for a good cause.

Zaks wore a pretty dress for Saturday's date. A legal assistant who lives with her 83-year-old grandmother, Zaks donated to the NOAH Telethon because she has a friend who is struggling on the Cape. Yes, the fact she might also win a date with Lambton motivated her.

When she won, "I nearly fell down," she said.

Zaks said she watched the show and cheered for Lambton because he's a fellow Massachusetts resident.

Lambton still gets lots of offers to help out charities. He picks and chooses, but clearly says yes to many.

"The reality show thing can be used to give back," he said.

Rick Brigham, the NOAH development coordinator, said Lambton helped the telethon greatly. Thanks in part to the Cape reality TV celeb, the telethon raised $73,000, up from $60,000 the previous year.

Social services face 'troubling' cutbacks on Cape

Posted on Wed, Feb 16, 2011

President Barack Obama's proposed budget cuts would put the squeeze on the Cape's neediest, according to leaders of local organizations that help the poor and low-income working families.

They say fuel oil assistance, Head Start, child care vouchers and even assistance with clothing and diapers would be slashed, as well as programs that help homeowners make their houses weather-tight or avoid foreclosure.

Obama's $3.7 trillion budget plan — criticized by Republicans for not cutting deeply enough — "makes it really hard on the most vulnerable people," said Frederic Presbrey, head of the Housing Assistance Corp. in Hyannis.

"People at the top will feel very little pain, and people at the bottom will feel a lot," Presbrey said. "They already are."

The Community Action Committee of the Cape and Islands stands to lose $500,000 out of a budget of $3.3 million under Obama's proposals for the fiscal year 2012, executive director Estelle Fritzinger said.

In addition to providing help with utilities and subsidies for child care, the grants also fund financial literacy classes, provide rental assistance and pay for counselors who sign people up for health insurance, Fritzinger said.

"People rely on these programs so much with the economy the way it is," she said.

Fuel assistance money alone helped about 6,000 families on the Cape and Islands with heating costs last year, according to information provided by Lisa Spencer, energy director at the South Shore Community Action Council, which oversees local fuel assistance programs.

Obama's proposed cuts "would have a devastating impact" on fuel funding and force people to choose between heat and food and medicine, especially as oil prices rise, Spencer said.

U.S. Rep. William Keating, D-Quincy, said in a statement the budget plan "demonstrates the president's commitment to bringing down our deficit," but added the effect of cuts on some should not be lost in "an abstract numbers conversation."

"With a winter like the Northeast is currently experiencing, a 50 percent cut in assistance for home heating oil does not seem like a smart choice," he said.

Head Start, which serves more than 300 children on the Cape and in Wareham, would be cut 14 percent nationwide under Obama's proposed budget, said Mary Pat Messmer, executive director of Cape Cod Child Development.

That could translate into 40 or 50 families whose children don't get served, she said.

"It certainly would reduce access for working families for care," said Messmer, who called the proposed cuts "troubling."

The Housing Assistance Corp. could lose $750,000 that helps pay for home weatherization, foreclosure prevention and housing counseling, Presbrey said.

But Obama also has indicated he wants to increase federal funds to help homeless people by 25 percent, which could mean a different source of funds for HAC, Presbrey said. He said it's too early to tell.

At Cape Cod Community College, officials say proposed cuts to so-called "summer" Pell Grants would affect only about 30 out of 1,500 summer students.

College officials are more worried about a Republican proposal to cut all Pell awards by 15 percent, Cape Cod Community College spokesman Michael Gross. said

"It's very inequitable," he said, adding that it would prolong the length of time community college students, who often are in the workforce and also may have families, take to get their diplomas.

State Rep. Demetrius Atsalis, D-Barnstable, said the budget ultimately adopted by Congress will look different from that proposed by Obama, but it is certain there will be cuts, most likely in social services.

"And it's difficult because you go after those who are most vulnerable through social service programs, housing programs. But we can't be everything to everyone all the time," he said.

State Rep. Cleon Turner, D-Dennis, is concerned about proposed cuts to state aid that would, in turn, affect the amount of aid passed on to towns.

State Sen. Dan Wolf , D-Harwich, said in a statement he hopes Congress will maintain "community job programs like block grants while reducing the deficit in a responsible way."

One bright spot in the presidential budget is a proposed $3.3 million increase in monies the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would get for the Cape Cod Canal, even though nationwide the Corps is slated to be cut by 6 percent.

Obama's budget proposed to spend $17.4 million on the canal in 2012 compared to $14.1 million in 2011, Corps spokesman Tim Dugan said.

The Corps isn't counting the money until the funds are authorized by Congress, but plans are in the works for steel repairs on both the Sagamore and Bourne bridges, Dugan said.

Rep. Timothy Madden, D-Nantucket, said the budget proposal includes a line item for repairs on the U.S. Coast Guard Station at Menemsha, which was destroyed by fire last summer.

Contributing writer Garrett Brnger contributed to this report.

HAC addresses Yarmouth motel issue

Posted on Thu, Feb 03, 2011

A Barnstable Superior Court judge’s ruling upholding Yarmouth’s zoning bylaws on motel occupancy isn’t sitting well with Rick Presbrey, CEO of the Housing Assistance Corporation.

Hyannis Civic hears promises of progress on homelessness

Posted on Fri, Jan 28, 2011

Hyannis Civic hears promises of progress on homelessness

Members applaud after Presbrey’s presentation

Any night Rick Presbrey admits he can be a little pig-headed is bound to be an interesting one.

That admission was one of the highlights of a standing-room-only meeting of more than 60 Greater Hyannis Civic Association members and guests at the Steamship Authority terminal Jan. 25. The evening included an update from Presbrey, CEO of Housing Assistance Corporation, on reducing beds at the NOAH Center for the homeless, and often-complimentary commentary from neighborhood residents and NOAH critics.

Even livelier exchanges led off the meeting, as members of the town’s growth management staff presented options for redoing the intersection of Ocean and South streets and Old Colony above Aselton Park. The upshot: most seemed to agree with Jeannette Chilli: “If it doesn’t itch, why y’all scratching?”

The signal system at the busy intersection is approaching its use-by date, and ways to time a replacement for maximum efficiency were batted about. Any change that cut off any of the access tricks residents have learned drew opposition, but some who live south of South Street complained about the afternoon backups on Ocean Street when the ferries, tour boats, and fishing vessels disembark their passengers. Others said they were content to wait because the busy-ness is good for business.

The town’s growth management director, Jo Anne Miller Buntich, took it all in and promised residents would hear again before any changes were made.

Changes in Store

Presbrey ran through the process that brought about an advisory committee report on ways to realign services at NOAH and reduce beds, with community support for other alternatives. He singled out unofficial member Elizabeth Wurfbain, executive director of the Hyannis Main Street Business Improvement District, as a “positive force.”

Two key practices have been put in place, Presbrey said: an assessment of service needs of all guests within one business day of their arrival at the North Street shelter, and a new policy of not accepting people from off-Cape.

“People get to stay there one night,” he said. Then arrangements are made to return them to their originating communities, with attention paid to hooking them up with services there.

“There isn’t a shelter nearby on the other side of the bridge,” Presbrey said in explaining why off-Cape homeless people come here in the first place. But he affirmed that NOAH is intended to serve residents of Barnstable, Dukes (Martha’s Vineyard) and Nantucket counties.

The next step, which is under way but not fully implemented, is setting a maximum stay limit for individuals at NOAH. Now, he said, the average stay is 11 days, but there are some who have become accustomed to living at the shelter.

“We want to make sure they know there’s a deadline,” Presbrey said.

These people will need some place to go – housing and jobs – and Presbrey said Housing Assistance has raised funds to help make that happen. He spoke proudly of HAC’s full-time housing person, who he said has found homes for 100 people in a year. A new hire will concentrate on finding part-time jobs, including mentorships and internships, that will be supported in part by the agency.

Presbrey praised the efforts of Homeless Not Helpless, Inc., to secure a third residence for formerly homeless people, but said the town’s regulations make such arrangements difficult to achieve.

With all these programs in place, Presbrey said, HAC will work toward reducing the number of beds in the shelter from 60 to 40 by June 2012.

“Is that an iron-clad commitment?” he asked. “I hope we’ll make it.” He noted a 200-bed shelter in Worcester has reduced its census to 60 and expects to close by the end of the month.

“We’re trying to keep people alive here,” Presbrey said. “If there are unintended consequences, we want to deal with that. I was a little bit pig-headed about it.”

Audience members praised Presbrey but also used the occasion to raise concerns about the persistence of camps of the homeless in wooded areas not far from downtown and their homes. Councilor Greg Milne recalled the town’s bulldozing of the camps more than five years ago and said, “The camp issue is the issue that has to be put to bed.”

Several speakers, including Presbrey and Wurfbain, praised the street and camp outreach work of Tom Naples. Naples, who was recently hired by the Duffy Health Center, has agreed to work with the Cape Cod Council of Churches Street Outreach Ministry on nights and weekends.

The Council announced this week that it has received a $5,000 grant from the Edward Bangs Kelley and Elza Kelley Foundation for its Overnights of Hospitality case management services. Its Bridge to Hope program received two grants from the Cape Cod Foundation: $7,500 from the Jean B. Edgerly Memorial Fund and the Jesse & Juanita Grimes Fund and $13,000 from the Great Expectations Fund.

HAC offers reason for hope at Route 134 Project in Dennis

Posted on Tue, Jan 25, 2011

Deferred dream: Affordable housing desperately needed at Melpet Farm

Cape Cod Times


When the Housing Assistance Corp. tears down the buildings on the Melpet Farm in Dennis, it may be both physically and symbolically the start of something great.

There's reason to hope. Last month, Hyannis-based HAC received permission to develop 27 affordable housing units on the property, which is on Route 134. If they are able to do so, it will be the fulfillment of a dream 10 years in the making.

The past decade has included an embarrassing mixture of half measures and failed promises that resulted in upheaval within the town's housing authority and an audit by state officials. It would be hard to catalogue the entire litany of missteps that have plagued the 20-acre parcel, but it began with the awarding of no-bid contracts less than a year after voters decided to buy the property.

Since then, one housing authority director has resigned and another has been fired as a result of the project. There has also been a threat of foreclosure on part of the property, and a series of unfinished units that have not and cannot be occupied.

In short, it has generated substantial controversy. The one thing that it has not generated thus far is any permanent affordable housing units, which is what Dennis taxpayers thought they were getting when they agreed to purchase the property in 2001 for $2 million.

Although the development of affordable housing at Melpet Farm has stalled, the need for that housing has continued to grow. In fact, in October 2009, the town's affordable housing stock was less than 5 percent of its total housing, far below the 10 percent goal that the state has mandated for Massachusetts towns by 2015.

Of course, Dennis is not alone in its lack of progress; towns across the Cape are struggling to meet the state requirements. But the Melpet Farm property has been a very public, and recurring, black eye.

HAC could very well be the group to heal the wounds of the past decade. In the next two years, they hope to create 52 bedrooms on the property, designed for people earning at or below 60 percent of the median income in Barnstable County. This translates into about $650 a month for a single-bedroom apartment, and $850 for a two-bedroom apartment. With 35 years of experience and more than 300 units created, the organization certainly has the experience to take challenges and turn them around.

The second aspect of the Melpet Farms project, to develop a farm on another part of the property, has gotten off to a less-than-auspicious start. The Dennis Agricultural Commission recently canceled a meeting to discuss the future of a horse barn. The reason? Only one bid was received, and that was considered incomplete.

Dennis Town Administrator Richard White said the proposal contained a lot of general information, but not the requisite operational plan. Town officials hope to put the project out to bid again.

As far as dreams go, the Melpet Farm project has been a long time in the making. We hope that this is one dream ready to become reality.