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Always Home’s goal is to keep families housed and help parents create lasting stability for their children. They focus exclusively on serving Eastern Connecticut families with minor children and work to keep them in their own housing and out of emergency shelters. Stop & Shop has supported this organization through the Community Bag and Bloomin’ 4 Good Programs.

Tell us about Always Home.

Always Home was founded in 1998 to address the needs of Eastern Connecticut’s homeless, imminently homeless and at-risk families. Our mission is Preventing Family Homelessness.  

It all began 25 years ago when a woman slept on the steps of the Union Baptist Church in Mystic, Connecticut, for three nights and then went to church service on Sunday. She heard the minister at the time, ​Rev. Dr. G. Kenneth Carpenter, give his sermon. And when it came time for the offering, she put a dollar in the envelope and wrote about how she had been laid off from her job, had nowhere to go and needed help. Her story set off alarm bells in Rev. Carpenter’s heart as well as the congregation and the community that there were people hurting to this degree.

Rev. Carpenter got together with a group of church and business leaders, and they created a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization to focus on the growing issue of family homelessness in our region. Always Home started out sheltering parents and their minor children in scattered site shelters. We hired the staff to provide the case management services families needed to regain their housing stability. 

Fast forward 25 years, and here we are today. Things are a little bit different for our organization now. The philosophy shifted over the years to focus on housing first. We no longer see the shelter as a destination.

We work to find immediate solutions to a family’s housing crisis so that they avoid the trauma of eviction, homelessness or time in an emergency shelter.

To that end, about five years ago, we turned our shelter properties into four below-market rental apartments. These give client families a place to build their stability and grow from there.

What services do you provide to the community?

Always Home’s primary goal is to secure a family’s housing and prevent homelessness or shelter stays. We do that through Homelessness Prevention and Shelter Diversion services. Every family receives individualized support from our case management team, where we assess a family’s present situation and determine how best to resolve their housing crisis. Not every family needs financial assistance. Sometimes they just need resources and good advice.

Someone may call and say, “I have nowhere to sleep tonight. I have two kids, and we don’t know what we will do.” These are families who are homeless or within 14 days of homelessness. That’s when the conversation centers around Shelter Diversion and trying to figure out options other than emergency shelter. Where can they stay? Where can they go while figuring out what they will do next? That can look like a lot of different things.

In some cases, it means helping the family move to where other family members are. We’ve paid for bus tickets or plane tickets to send a family all together to go live with another family member if that’s the only way to give them stability. Our case manager or social worker will talk to the other family members to make sure everybody knows what’s happening.

The biggest challenge now for people is housing availability and costs. But when a family does find an apartment, we can help. They might not have enough saved for the security deposit, or maybe they don’t have enough to cover that first month’s rent because other unexpected expenses have come up, but they have the path forward. We can help with the gap.

Or a family may not be quite to the point of eviction, but they’re falling behind on rent. That’s when we focus on Homelessness Prevention strategies that stop an episode of housing insecurity from spiraling out of control. By assisting with back rent or current rent, a family can retain their existing housing and sustain going forward. That’s the ideal scenario.

For example, we helped a young single mom get into an apartment right down the street from her brother. She didn’t have the security deposit. We were able to help her with that, and she is now right next door to a support system.

In another scenario, we had someone in Section 8 housing who had an injury, couldn’t work and fell behind on her rent. We helped her with the back rent so she could keep that Section 8 housing.

So many people with jobs live paycheck to paycheck that one little, relatively small thing can blow up their entire lives. We can provide financial assistance to get them back on track.

Always Home also provides wraparound services that are fundamental to a family’s lasting housing stability. Our Childcare Solutions Program helps with childcare issues that can prevent parents from working. A parent may have a new job and have childcare lined up, but they can only afford it once they’ve been working a bit. We can step in and help pay for that childcare while they’re waiting for the state-funded childcare to kick in. There’s also summer camp; kids are in school all year, but summer suddenly hits. We’ll help with the expense of summer camp so that parents can know that their children are safe and they’re still able to go to work.

Transportation is another common barrier to sustaining housing. Always Home’s Wheels to Work program helps a family afford costly car repairs so that parents can continue working to earn the income to pay the rent. We also accept donations of cars in working condition that we, in turn, give to families.

What sets you apart from other nonprofits in your community?

One of the key differentiating factors is the word “family.” Always Home’s clients are families with minor children. That’s truly what sets us apart. Also, we stay focused on the housing piece because, without housing stability, the entire family’s well-being is at stake.

Tell us a story that illustrates the good work of your organization.

Let me tell you about a young woman who is a single mom. She had breast cancer but also a young child. She’d been going through a lot of treatment and dealing with a lot of challenges but being a single mom on top of it made it so much worse.

She fell behind in rent. But we were able to help her with that, so she was able to stay stable and begin to focus on her long healing process. We also were able to help her with the brakes for her vehicle. She really needed that car because she lived in one town and worked in another.

Breast cancer on its own is hard enough, but throw in being a single parent living paycheck to paycheck, and it’s a whole other thing. She’s doing well and still working through it.

The situations in which these families find themselves don’t happen overnight, so the solutions don’t always happen overnight. It takes time to build back up that stability and put all the pieces back together again.

What is your most outstanding achievement or contribution to the community?

It’s hard to choose one thing. Each and every time a family has secured stable housing, that’s a success. And then the next time, it’s another success. It’s not just one thing; it’s a series of successes.

I’m grateful for every time we are able to help a family, and we’re here to be the foundation they need.

What do you want people to know about Always Home?

That we care about you. I know that’s simplified, but we want what’s best for everybody. The families that we work with are our neighbors, and we want the best for them.

How are you using the funds raised from the Stop & Shop Community Bag and Bloomin’ 4 Good Program?

We’ll use the funds to be able to keep doing our case management and keep helping families with financial assistance so they can maintain their housing.

Is there anything you’d like to add? 

Just thank you for this program! Highlighting the work of nonprofits is wonderful. And anytime business partners can support the local nonprofits in the communities in which they do work, it makes a difference, so thank you.

Tricia Cunningham is the Executive Director of Always Home.

Published April 12, 2023.