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Making Public Housing Work for Families (Part 2 of 3)


The second post in a three-part series on The Fairfield County Community Foundation's efforts to improve the lives of families in Connecticut.

Read part one of this blog series.

A year into the implementation of the Stable Families program, the partners knew there was more work to be done. We wanted to be sure that the successes we were having with individual families could be sustained, and that meant stabilizing the community and not just the family. As Marvin Farbman, Chair of the Bridgeport Public Housing Resident Support Fund (BPHRSF) advisory committee noted, “We realize that in order to thrive, children need stable families and families need stable neighborhoods. We can’t continue to serve families and ignore the fact that the public housing neighborhoods they live in are characterized by too much crime, too much violence, and not enough opportunity.”

In August 2011 the partners in the Stable Families program were awarded a planning grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation to develop a strategy for addressing these broader issues in one of Bridgeport’s public housing neighborhoods. The partners chose to focus on the P.T. Barnum Apartments, a public housing project located in the Black Rock section of Bridgeport. P.T. Barnum, or P.T., as residents call it, is currently home to more than 1,180 individuals in 352 families. Ninety-three percent of these families are single, female-headed households. Only 53 percent of families have earned income and all families are low income, with an average income for a family of 4 of less than $15,000.

While P.T. is a neighborhood of distinct disadvantage, the partners chose to focus there for the demonstration project because the neighborhood also has significant assets that can be leveraged, including: a new Boys & Girls Club recreational facility, a new community health center, a supermarket, thriving small businesses, and diverse housing options.

The partners engaged in a six-month planning process facilitated by the Corporation for Supportive Housing. Examining and drawing lessons from tested housing-based supportive services models and from cutting-edge community transformation models, this planning process led to the design of the P.T. Barnum Partnership.

The PT Barnum Partnership design includes three critical components:

  1. A calibrated, multi-partner supportive services model designed to engage families around their service needs and help families create and access a system of care that builds on family strengths, and takes a multi-generational, integrated, and coordinated approach to meeting individual and family service needs.
  2. A family engagement center that is the cornerstone of PTBP’s early intervention strategy. The center, which is being designed with resident input, will be located within P.T.’s existing, and mostly vacant, community center and will provide a gathering space for families with young children where they can connect to each other, participate in activities, and access child developmental and maternal depression screenings and referrals provided by a master’s level clinician from Bridgeport Hospital’s Child First program.
  3. A community “collective impact” effort that deeply engages residents with other community stakeholders and partners to identify and prioritize community issues, craft solutions, and evaluate the impact of those solutions.

All three components focus on organizing and amplifying the strengths and collective will of P.T. Barnum’s residents to improve the responsiveness and quality of mainstream services and systems and leverage community assets. The project is based on the premise that resident voice and community engagement and leadership are essential to sustainable community change.

Already, community engagement has had a significant impact on the direction of the project. In the next segment I’ll explore how resident voice has helped to shape the priorities, the messaging, and the timeline for the project.

Read part three in this three-part blog series.

nancy_von_euler.jpgNancy von Euler joined the Fairfield County Community Foundation in April 2008 and serves as Program Director for Economic Opportunity and Health and Human Services. Ms. von Euler holds a Bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies from Vassar College and a Master’s degree in Public Administration from New York University. Find her at @nancyvone.



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Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of decent communities in which to live and bring up their children.

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