2018-04-19 / Front Page

Lucy’s Hearth Keeps Families Together

By Jocelyn O’Neil

Diondra, 23 and her son, Eli, 1. (Photo by Jocelyn O'Neil) Diondra, 23 and her son, Eli, 1. (Photo by Jocelyn O'Neil) Elionai, nicknamed “Eli,” celebrated his first birthday in a homeless shelter. After being evicted from their apartment shortly before Christmas, Eli and his 23-yearold single mother, Diondra (for privacy, last name not given) moved into what she calls “the first stable house of her life.”

Lucy’s Hearth settled into its new home at 19 Valley Road in Middletown in October 2016. In the vastly updated facility, the families have more access to opportunities for services and programs.

The new facility increased the number of families served from 10 to 15 and gave it the ability to offer long-term stays of up to 90 days. After 32 years as a women-only shelter, one of the biggest changes to Lucy’s Hearth is that they have formally started accepting men into their facility as tenants.

“Our Newport county may not have been ready to hear that when we announced we were going to accept men,” said Program Director Jennifer Barrera, “but we wanted to continue to serve our homeless population no matter who they are, or what shape, or size they are.

The men who are residents are here with their families. "They are… participating 100 percent to help their family. The more stability for the kids the better.”

Lucy’s Hearth’s primary goal is to foster independence and help residents gain the life skills necessary to prevent future chronic homelessness. Every family receives case management, along with educational and life skills programs. The facility only accepts adults with children in their custody and women who are at least seven months pregnant. Tenants cannot be registered sex offenders and must be free of drug- and violent-crime convictions.

Barrera said, in a previous Newport This Week article, that Lucy’s Hearth must comply with federal regulations and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing, or HEARTH Act, a federal law administered by HUD, was signed into law in 2009 to ensure equal access to housing. (See “Finding and Documenting the Homeless,” NTW, Nov. 13, 2014)

“It has actually been pretty smooth,” said Kristen Gangemi, a program assistant at Lucy’s Hearth, about the transition of the facility from women and children only.

“There really aren’t too many men on the list,” she said. “That, coupled with meeting the ‘family unit’ perspective and vulnerability criteria, accounts for the low numbers.” Three men have been accepted as residents since October 2017.

The low numbers on the waiting list are an indicator that the vast majority of residents are single mothers. Without the support of a partner or family members, many of the single mothers at Lucy’s Hearth are struggling to find affordable childcare outside the facility.

Since the residents are not allowed in each other’s rooms, the option to babysit other residents’ children is not an option. “We’ve had to break up a few babysitting,” said Gangemi. “Right now, we don’t have anything available [for childcare]. She also said that Headstart, the local schools, and the few afterschool programs offered at Lucy’s Hearth do offer the mothers some relief in this area.

Barrera agreed that childcare is a challenge because of long waiting lists and spotty public transit access to available childcare. However, she said that if the shelter did provide childcare she believes that the transition from the facility would be more difficult.

“We want to get them into education, training and childcare that will work for them,” said Barrera. “What would their long-term sustainability look like if we had onsite childcare and once they moved out, that was then taken away?”

Diondra is currently looking to gain full-time employment as soon as possible because the father of her child is not paying child support. On the day she spoke to NTW, she and Eli were on their way to meet up with Eli’s father for a visit.

“I know what it’s like growing up without a father, and I don’t want to deny him [Eli] that,” she said.

Lucy’s Hearth will be hosting its First Annual Music Barbecue on Saturday, April 29, noon and 3 p.m., 19 Valley Rd., Middletown. All their friends and neighbors are invited for music, food, and to see what’s new at Lucy’s Hearth. Bring a chair and bring the kids.

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