Journal of Housing & Community Development

Award of Excellence: Parenting Club Night

October 9, 2020

The Housing Authority of the City of New Britain (NBHA) wins a 2019 Award of Excellence in Client and Resident Services for hosting a paint night for the housing authority’s parenting club to provide a fun activity for residents and work towards decreasing the stigma associated with mental health care. Nominated from among the NAHRO Award of Merit winners each year, the Awards of Excellence winners are chosen by national juries and honored at the annual National Conference and Exhibition in October. They represent the very best in innovative programs in assisted housing and community development.  

The Housing Authority of the City of New Britain’s Executive Director John Hamilton, along with Resident Opportunities and Self Sufficiency (ROSS) Program Coordinator Ken House, were looking for ways to improve residents’ self-sufficiency by lowering barriers to mental health care.  

House, who has been the ROSS program coordinator for about four years, said residents at NBHA mostly come from low-income backgrounds and many are dealing with traumatic stress, depression, and anxiety. He wanted to find a way to provide a fun, enjoyable activity for the community that was affordable and offered them a way to connect with mental health services. 

Residents often lack social interaction, House noted. “And because they do not have a ton of money, they are on the outside looking in at the fun things people are doing, such as a paint night. So it got me thinking, how do we build community and provide an activity that is a night out for residents of the housing authority?”   

Rather than directly refer residents to a clinician, House decided to host a paint night, during which people gather to paint with a step-by-step tutorial, while also having a mental health clinician on hand to provide information. The housing authority provided babysitting and dinner to make it a family event and partnered with a local therapist who accepted Medicaid. As a result of the event, at least four people met with a therapist for the first time. 

“The hardest thing to do in the world of public housing is to market resident services activities,” House said. “To the residents, if you work in housing, you are the rent collector. You are the person knocking on the door asking for rent. So it takes a long time to build that trust and market events people will attend.”  

NBHA’s inaugural paint night was a success. The event helped to show what mental health services are available to them. The therapist worked to destigmatize mental illnesses and encourage people to seek help.

“A lot of people do not grow up with thinking about counseling as part of a wellness routine,” House said. “These residents have a higher percentage of domestic violence at home and experiences with sexual assault. It’s about teaching them that seeing a counselor is as needed part of your wellness as is getting your teeth cleaned.”   

As a result of the paint night, NBHA and the ROSS Program’s partnered with the therapist who attended the paint night to help launch a pilot initiative, CARES 2020. The program works to increase self-sufficiency for five families each year and increase residents’   

“When you are from a low-income environment there are not many connecting points of people creating that momentum to push you along,” House said. “The concept behind CARES 2020 is to create a layer of social capital with a small group of residents.”  

The clinician helps connect residents with employment opportunities, links them with a financial advice coach, and offers physical and mental health wellness checks. House said the pilot program is helping to increase resident self-sufficiency.  

“The goal is to make residents less reliant on government funding, because bottom line they can contribute more and live better lives for their families,” he said.  

To measure the program’s success, House put together some metrics in a “passport” that participants of CARES 2020 can use to keep track of improvements in their lives.  

“It’s an informal approach to have them tell us how they are doing in a variety of areas to show they are living a more engaged life,” House said. “If, over time, we can increase these measures positively, then we can prove we built more social capital and we created something that has some momentum in terms of outcomes.”  

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