POMFRET — Chronic homelessness may soon be a thing of the past.
That was one of the messages delivered during Access Community Action Agency’s 50th anniversary celebration and awards ceremony Wednesday night.
Access Chief Executive Officer and President Peter DeBiasi said in recent years the organization and its partners have made significant strides in reducing homelessness.
“It’s a big mission, but suddenly it seems more attainable,” DeBiasi said. “Connecticut is the first state in the country to end chronic homelessness of veterans.”
Access was founded in 1965 to help meet basic human needs in the Windham area. Today, it serves Windham and Tolland counties and has extended some of its programs into New London County.
The agency celebrated its volunteers and employees Wednesday, and honored some of its most committed partners, giving its two highest community service awards to the Coalition to End Homelessness and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy.
Lisa Tepper-Bates, executive director of the Coalition, said Access has been a leader in developing a model to end homelessness. She said there cannot be a one-size fits all approach but instead, each person must be treated as an individual and his or her needs addressed. She said Connecticut has a goal to end chronic homelessness in 2016 and may be the first state to achieve the goal.
“I think as a state we will do it, but I think northeast Connecticut will be the first community in Connecticut to end chronic homelessness,” Tepper-Bates said.
State Sen. Mae Flexer, who introduced Murphy for his award, said Access and agencies like it have a champion in Congress.
“Everyone in this room can have faith that the needs of the people served by Access are in the heart of Sen. Murphy every day,” Flexer said.
Murphy said his mother taught him to be grateful for what he had and understand others sometimes need support. His mother lived in public housing in New Britain growing up, Murphy said, and back then, the country understood the importance of public-private partnerships.
Public housing and good public schools meant his mother could attend college and become an asset to the economy. He said the sink or swim attitude many have adopted is not helping the country. The work of agencies like Access is critical, Murphy said.
“It’s not just the right thing to do, it's the fiscally smart and responsible thing to do,” Murphy said.
DeBiasi said Access has been proactive in helping create affordable funding. In the coming months and years it will move toward helping to create more jobs, he said.
“Our thing is we know there needs to be affordable housing and jobs,” DeBiasi said. “If there is no housing and no jobs, people will go homeless.”