Madeline Ravich is the Campaign Director for the be homeful project, whose goal is to end family homelessness in Connecticut. There are two strategies to this campaign: raising much-needed shelter diversion funds to help local families stay at home and also providing kids, families, and communities with tools to learn about how homelessness affects local children. Since the project launched the project in 2015, the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness and its members have helped over 1,000 children and their families stay in their homes.
Q: Madeline, thank you for speaking with us! We would first love to learn more about you, your background, and what influences in your life led you to work for a non-profit organization.
A: I have been working in the non-profit field more or less since college and in the homelessness field for the past six years. I am motivated by a belief that we as a society should and CAN make the world a more just place for every individual. I am proud to have worked for a number of organizations that are making a real difference in the world including World Wildlife Fund and now the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness. These organizations do not offer empty hope; they engage the public in developing real-life solutions to real-life problems.
Q: What motivates you to head into work every day?
A: When I first heard of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, its name sounded aspirational to me. Like so many people in our society, I thought that ending homelessness was goal that was as valiant as it was insurmountable, which is why I am proud to work for an organization that is showing that it IS possible to make sure that everybody has a place to call home. Since I first started at CCEH, Connecticut has reduced the number of people needing to utilize shelter by 40%. We still have a lot of work to do, but people are starting to come around to the idea that if we work together we can build a system that makes homelessness rare, brief, and non-recurring for everybody in our state.
Q: Can you tell us about some of the projects your overall organization (CCEH) has worked on and specifically how the be homeful project was created?
A: Our coalition was born in the 1980’s when the government closed psychiatric hospitals around the United States with no real plan. As homelessness surged, people who cared joined together to voice that we needed a coordinated response to this crisis. Forty years later, our state has built a system that makes it possible to ensure that we can direct the most intensive resources to the people who need the most help. People experiencing housing crises can call 211 for immediate assistance and those who need more intensive assistance can meet with diversion specialists who support them in finding ways to stay housed rather than enter shelter. We are doing a lot of work to help people stay housed, partnering with schools, the criminal justice system, libraries, hospitals, and other key players who touch the homeless in their daily work to figure out how we can all work together to make sure that nobody has to struggle with prolonged periods of homelessness.
About five years ago, we realized though that the public’s thinking hadn’t yet caught up with ours. We realized that while we were focused on finding solutions to help people stay housed, most people still thought that shelter was the only option for those experiencing homelessness. We knew that this approach didn’t work since that thinking results in people languishing in shelters with no real plan. We decided to turn the issue on the head by creating the be homeful project, to end homelessness before it begins for families here in Connecticut. The project is designed to give kids, families, and communities tools to learn how homelessness affects local children and take action to help. We are very fortunate to have the iconic Paddington Bear as our official “spokesbear” for the project and have formed fabulous partnerships with CT REALTORS®, Citizens Bank, United Way, Synchrony Financial, the Office of Early Childhood and now Care Skincare to develop innovative approaches to growing both awareness and funds to help families remain housed rather than enter shelter.
Q: Would you share some of the inspiring stories that have come out of the be homeful project? Are there any people you have worked with whose stories you would like to share?
A: There are so many. We just passed the 1,000 mark for the number of children who be homeful has allowed us to keep housed. That’s phenomenal to me. We collect stories on every family helped through the program. The stories are both heart-wrenching and inspiring, as we are able to support staff from the shelter system in helping families find solutions. Our campaign is infused with a sense of optimism about what we can do when we work together.
One story I remember vividly was of a mother whose partner had passed away suddenly. The modest funeral expenses cleaned her out leaving her with nothing left for rent. Can you imagine having to choose between burying a loved one and housing your family? The be homeful funds helped the family stay housed at a really difficult time. I thought that story was amazing. Most families be homeful helps are experiencing a one-time crisis such as a lost job or injury on the job resulting in lost wages that make it impossible to pay the rent. In most cases, a little bit of creativity, compassion, and a small amount of targeted flexible funding can help a family resolve a temporary crisis. Remarkably, very few people we assist through the fund return to shelter, indicating that if we can help a family get through a crisis they will be in much better shape.
I am continuously impressed by all the incredible people who dedicate their lives to ending homelessness. I think the people who work day in and day out to meet with people on the brink of homelessness are remarkable in the commitment, compassion, and ingenuity they bring to their everyday work. We did some math recently and figured out that we need twice as many of these workers to fully serve everybody who we need to meet with to keep people housed whenever possible, which means that everybody in this system is working twice as hard at minimal wages.
Q: What should I do if I or somebody I know needs help based in Connecticut?
A: Call 211. United Way’s 211 is the front door for all services in our state. Please help us spread the word to anybody who needs help.
Q: What things can we be mindful of and thankful for as we approach the holidays? Would you share your information for anyone who wants to learn more?
A: We all should be thankful for what we have, but being thankful for our own good fortunate isn’t enough. Believe it or not, this project isn’t purely about altruism. Building shelters is expensive and keeping families housed represents a small fraction of the cost our society bears when we treat shelter as the first resort. Many people are amazed that it only costs $1,000 on average to keep a family housed through be homeful. Also, the single greatest predictor of whether somebody will be homeless as an adult is if they experience homelessness as a child because it normalizes the experience. What is amazing is that investing in be homeful now cuts off a vicious cycle that can carry forward for generations.
But it’s obviously not all about the money. Entering shelter is a traumatic experience and one that we should help families avoid. Shelter staff do the best they can to make shelters welcoming, comfortable places for families, but living in a large dorm room is not what childhood should be for any of us. We can do better if we work together and spread the word that we can end homelessness before it begins.
Please do check out our website at www.behomeful.org to learn more about our project to end homelessness for families in Connecticut. We have a lot of ways to get involved including tools for engaging kids, businesses, and communities in holding “marmalade drives” and “bear-raiser drives” in honor of our “spokesbear.” You can also write to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to get involved!
With Thanks & Care to Madeline and the be homeful project,
Bio: Michelle is a former beauty executive who loves being part of the Care Skincare Team. She’s married with two young children who have more energy than all the drinks on a Starbucks menu.