Homeless people tend to have trust issues, but when Phil Costello approaches they typically greet him like family. That’s because Costello, the clinical director for homeless care at Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center in New Haven, puts effort into building relationships and trust so he can get people the medical care they need. Quentin Staggers, homeless for nearly a decade, credits Costello with saving his life. He awoke one day on a bench on the New Haven Green with a blinding headache. He saw Costello and asked for help.
We aren’t doing right by our most vulnerable youth — the runaways, and the young people who are homeless. For all its resources, the state of Connecticut has less than 25 beds available for young people who are under the age of 18 and in crisis. Stacey Violante Cote, director of the Teen Legal Advocacy Project at the Center for Children’s Advocacy, heads a work group that studies homeless youth in the state. The group recently released a report, “Opening Doors for Youth,” that said the state’s youth services are geared mostly for young people who are clients of state agencies such as the Department of Children and Families, or they are among the handful of young people who occupy the state’s few slots in shelters. That leaves out most of the young people who are homeless in Connecticut, who are uniquely skilled at staying under the radar.
If we’re going to talk about changing our culture post-Newtown, we need to talk about supportive housing. It shouldn’t be that difficult a conversation. Unlike the state’s heated discussions about potential gun legislation, we have consensus that something must be done about Connecticut’s mental health care system – which isn’t really a system at all. While the public’s attention to mental health in the wake of the horrific Newtown school shooting is important, the irony is that we don’t know if the Newtown shooter was mentally ill. What he did was horrific, but, as Kate Mattias, executive director of the National Alliance On Mental Illness-CT, said, “You don’t have to have a mental illness to do something sociopathic.