Connecting Our Community: A Story from MHC’s Northwest sector

Contributed by: Michael Culmo, MHC’s Chief Program Officer

CAN Team social distancing

MHC staff “in action” (safely distanced) responding to the hotline – Kaylynn Sholomicky, Youth CAN Navigator (l); Shanaya Metz, CAN Navigator (r)

In order to observe the CDC’s recommendations of social distancing and isolation during the coronavirus crisis, MHC and the Department of Housing (DOH) recognized an urgent need to streamline the connection between people experiencing homelessness and their ability to seek housing and other services. DOH indicated that they would like to pilot a call center in our Coordinated Access Network (CAN) that would allow us to test out how to frame the line of work for other state CANs and determine the best way of working and communicating remotely.

Agustin Lopez (MHC’s Director of Housing), Gabby Padilla (MHC’s Program Coordinator of Housing Services), and Dainius Vitartus (MHC’s Director of IT) worked with staff from the Department of Housing (DOH), Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS), and Connecticut’s 2-1-1 call center/info-line to connect individuals experiencing homelessness directly to our staff. MHC created a call tree through Microsoft Teams that routes incoming calls directly to our 4 homeless services staff members. This ensures that calls are answered by a live staff person (whomever gets to the call first).

This change from in-person to telephonic meetings has enabled us to expand our intake hours from 8:00 a.m. – 12 noon to 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. which has further decreased the time individuals have to wait for an intake appointment and housing placement. Since MHC created and started piloting this program in the Northwest Connecticut Coordinated Access Network (CAN) on 3/16/20 we have received positive feedback from program participants, 2-1-1, our funders, as well as staff. Staff are able to quickly connect with individuals in need, and provide the appropriate level of support without risking exposure to COVID-19 of program participants or staff.

“It warms my heart to see the tenacity and commitment from our staff to keep pushing barriers and work to continue to provide support and services during this difficult times. They live MHC’s mission as the deliver news, get aid for recent leases or find ways of easing the struggles that some families and individuals may share with them over the phone; this with bountiful empathy and wiliness as they help their everyday callers requesting aid.” – Agustin Lopez

MHC will work with 2-1-1, DOH, and DMHAS to assist our sister agencies across the state in setting up similar processes throughout Connecticut.