On any given Thursday night, homeless youth can find a new safe spot for resources, advice and assistance on the Vehicle For Change wellness van, parked outside Housatonic Community College (HCC).
The van, which is a program of Opening Doors Fairfield County, began parking near the college’s State Street entrance earlier this month. Each Thursday night, from 7-9pm, it is staffed with a member of the Greater Bridgeport Area Prevention Program (GBAPP) and an HCC student majoring in social work studies, providing the added benefit of valuable hands-on work experience.
“We help them with food and resources for housing. Mostly they just want someone to talk to,” said Khalia Moulton, a second-year HCC student.
With a goal of assisting youth, aged 24 and under to achieve health, housing stability, and other opportunities to thrive, multiple community-based services are joining the project. Eventually, services will expand to include dental and health screenings, LGBTQ supportive services and education and employment services.
“We co-locate a variety of different services to youth on the van,” said Lisa Bahadosingh, Director of Youth Initiatives and Special Projects for Supportive Housing Works. “From the annual youth count we understand there are youth experiencing housing instability, but they’re not seeking services. We have to go to them.”
According to the 2019 Connecticut Youth Outreach & Count, a total of 1,011 homeless and unstably housed youth were identified. A total of 337 youth age 24 and younger were experiencing unaccompanied literal homelessness, and 674 were counted as “unstably housed.”
“We know that homeless youth are significantly under-counted, and some of our students experience homelessness and unstable housing. We take pride in supporting our students and the surrounding community. This partnership is an important step in helping individuals get the services they need to place them on a path to success,” said Paul Broadie, President of Housatonic Community College.
Bahadosingh recently spoke at HCC alongside Senator Chris Murphy, Senator Richard Blumenthal and Congressman Jim Himes, announcing HUD’s $3.01M Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program grant award to Opening Doors Fairfield County. The organization will collaborate with a broad array of partners including a Youth Action Board, developing a coordinated community plan and implementing projects to prevent and end youth homelessness.
“Homeless youth are not visible, they’re not sleeping on the street, they’re bouncing from place to place,” said Bahadosingh. “Either they don’t have the knowledge of where to go for help or pride prevents them, or they don’t trust the system. It takes time for them to open up, but once they do, they speak with each other, and word spreads.”
Currently, the Vehicle For Change van operates Tuesday through Friday in four locations: Housatonic Community College, the Bridgeport bus terminal, and the downtown and east side Bridgeport Pubic Library branches. Additional locations are in development from Stamford to Stratford.