NEW BRITAIN – After suffering through two tragedies and more than a year homeless, Richard Simonides has finally found a place to call his own at Howey House.
“It’s not the house I lived in, but it’s mine,” said the 57-year-old lifelong New Britain resident. “This is the first time I’ve been in an apartment alone.”
Simonides is one of 11 new residents of the Howie House Apartments, a permanent supportive housing building owned and managed by the Friendship Service Center for those who are chronically, or about to become chronically homeless. In order to be designated as “chronically homeless,” a person must have a disability and have been homeless for a year straight or experienced four bouts of homelessness in three years.
The building is named after Greg and Barbara Howey who donated money as part of a $2.9 million fundraising effort to address the city’s chronically homeless population who often use the most services while living on the streets. Greg Howey was the former co-chair of the Mayor’s 10-year plan to end homelessness formed in 2007 under Mayor Timothy Stewart.
Tenants living in the building pay one-third of their income as rent. Money funneled to the state Department of Housing from the federal department of Housing and Urban Development provides the other two-thirds. “If they don’t have income, then they don’t pay,” said Barbara Lazarski, Director of Communications and Development for the Friendship Center.
There are three case managers on staff who make sure clients have access to medical, mental health and substance abuse treatment. The case managers also help clients sign up for food stamps and visit food pantries and places that offer free clothing on a regular basis, said Ibis Rivera, a supportive housing supervisor for the Friendship Center. “We also do a lot of networking with doctors and clinicians,” Rivera said. “Our case management helps them to remove barriers to independent living.”
As of Tuesday, nine of the 11 new tenants had moved in. Each was given a bed purchased from the operating budget of the building and furniture and household items donated from the community. Each tenant received a gift basket full of items from the Friends of the Friendship Center, Lazarski said. Donations line the floor the hallway outside of Rivera’s cheery office which sports sunflowers and ivy decorating the shelves and tables. “The community came up with all the furniture,” Lazarski said. “We just put out the word we need it and it appeared, everything from soup to nuts including towels and sheets.”
There is a community room for staff and tenant meetings, a media lounge with a large television and a computer lounge and library. Lazarski hopes that the tenants form friendships and a sense of community within the building.
Simonides waited months on a housing list while living at the Salvation Army shelter until he was handed the key to his own apartment at Howey House on Oct. 1. He was living with his mother in her home in New Britain in 2016 when she suddenly passed away. His sister who was managing the house passed away about a year later leaving him without family and without resources to make it on his own.
He admitted that he was walking the streets in July 2017 contemplating taking his own life, when two police officers pulled up to check on his well being. They had been tipped off by his sister’s son that he was suicidal and wandering. “He saved my life,” Simonides said. After being diagnosed with depression and anxiety he went into treatment and started the long road back to finding his own life. At one point months into homelessness, he told The Herald that he didn’t feel human due to his circumstances.
All that changed when he was selected to receive a one-bedroom apartment at Howey House which also has case management and support for clients. He has been working 8 to 10 hours a week as a driver for Family Promise, an organization that provides temporary housing in churches for homeless families. But he’s looking for something steadier as computer technician, a job that he holds certification in.
He wants to change the community’s perception of homelessness. “There are homeless people out there for different reasons,” he said. “They aren’t all drunk. Sometimes they wind up in circumstances like me.”
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com.