The day to day lives of staff and clients at Community Solutions, Inc., the organization that LISA, Inc. (Living in Safe Alternatives) recently merged with, has been turned upside down in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
Community Solutions, Inc. (CSI) falls under essential services based on Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive order that closed several businesses across the state. Lamont’s orders also urge that groups of more than five people in one place at a time should be avoided at all costs. At CSI, that is just not possible.
Between halfway houses for people leaving prison and reentering the community, to the residential housing for youth leaving the foster care system and transitioning into independent adulthood, some of CSI’s buildings house 50 people at a time. In addition to those clients, staff members are coming in and out of those buildings all day long, potentially putting the health of clients at risk and risking their own health by not being able to work from home like many Connecticut residents right now.
CEO of CSI, Fernando Muniz, also sits on the board of directors of the Connecticut Community Nonprofit Alliance. The alliance is urging the state to allow for salaries of those essential staff members to be adjusted for the rest of the fiscal year.
“We’ve been advocating that the governor provide emergency relief to nonprofit organizations to allow us to increase pay for front-line staff, especially staff in residential programs,” said Muniz. “These residential services are essential. We want to compensate them as the essential staff that they are, and make them feel at ease and also stabilize the programs so that they don’t have to be quarantined or evacuated.”
Muniz said requests are currently pending. In addition, staff are actively researching disaster relief options from the federal government.
“This is a very scary time, and sadly, our front line staff are severely underpaid anyway,” he said. “At a time like this, we’re still asking them to report to work while most people are able to work from home.”
Not only are staff members feeling the pressure—clients are, too, especially those in residential housing. At “Wish” in Plainville, seven young women ages 17 to 19 who are transitioning from Department of Children and Families (DCF) programs into independent adulthood are suddenly experiencing a drastic change to the routine they’ve worked so hard to create.
“The biggest impact has been on the girls, who have gotten so used to this routine,” said Wish program director Christina Cicero. “For the most part, everyone’s just sitting here questioning things. For 17 to 19 year olds, pausing is really difficult.”
Often times, clients at Wish come from traumatic backgrounds. These young women come to Wish and learn essential life skills, from acquiring and keeping a job and balancing finances to simply performing chores around the home.
Amidst the pandemic, the clients at Wish are now experiencing job loss, their schools have closed down, and they are unable to continue with their normal routines.
“It is so important for our staff to come in with a positive energy and with the outlook that, ‘Today’s another day, we’re here together, and we’re going to get through this,’” said Cicero. “We need to be their ‘calm.’ The world is going to be chaotic and crazy, but what can we do in the program to be their ‘calm.’ That’s our focus.”
The clients at Wish have kept busy with activities such as making their own cooking shows, playing games, creating arts and crafts and other home-education skills that normally they don’t have time for. Meanwhile, staff keep safety at the fore-front and continue to practice social distancing as much as they can.
For more information about LISA, Inc. visit lisainc.org. For more about CSI, visit csi-online.org.