HOME AT LAST

IVANNA & CARMELLO


“For all of us sometimes it feels like the hardships will never end, but remind yourself how far you’ve come and that you were able to bounce back from something that not just anyone can. You are so strong!”


The hand-written message from a United Way supporter brought Carmello’s mother to tears.

“I don’t really hear it too much from my own family, so when I do hear it from other people it makes me feel good,” said Ivanna.

7-year-old Carmello and Ivanna of East Haven were homeless for two years, but now they’re in their own home, surrounded by love, support, and good vibes thanks to United Way donors like you. Their new apartment is decorated with family photos and inspirational quotes. These personal touches make it feel like home—and that’s because it is.

But just a few years ago they couch surfed, and sometimes Carmello would stay with his grandparents.

“I literally had my trunk full of clothes, all bags. That’s a horrible feeling especially when you have a kid.”

All of this stemmed from domestic violence, and Ivanna wanted to escape it.

“I knew that wasn’t the life I should be living, especially with a child.”

Ivanna got the courage to call 2-1-1 for help. Last year 2-1-1 fielded 14,488 housing crisis calls like this from the greater New Haven region. 2-1-1 is a statewide service, funded in part by United Way, that provides crisis support over the phone and then connects callers to programs in their community. In our work to end homelessness, 2-1-1 is the way for callers to enter local shelters and eventually find housing.

When Ivanna called, she explained her situation to a specialist who then connected her to our local network of providers focused on ending homelessness. A case worker met with Ivanna to work on potential solutions to her housing crisis. That night Ivanna and her son had nowhere to go, so Ivanna got help to pay for a night at a hotel until a shelter spot became available the next day.

From there, they lived in the shelter until housing was available. Shelters provide a necessary service in our community, but it was a tough transition for Ivanna and Carmello.

“When I went there I had low self-esteem, I wasn’t motivated to do anything.”

People at the shelter helped her get back on track with her career by encouraging her to go to school. The day she received the call about her housing voucher, she picked Carmello up from school and told him the news.

“He was so excited, he was just like, ‘Oh, I’m going to have my own room, I’m going to have my own friends outside, I can have sleepovers.’” Carmello could be a kid again.

They were so excited to have their own place that they slept on an air mattress in the middle of their new living room, in an otherwise empty apartment.

Your support makes this work possible. Over the past five years, our region’s more coordinated approach has housed 1,876 people in greater New Haven. Ending homelessness won’t happen overnight, but one population at a time, we’re making progress by working together. First we tackled veteran homelessness, then it was chronic homelessness, and we’re working to end youth and family homelessness next. Carmello and Ivanna’s new home brings the community one step closer to our goal.

Since moving into their apartment, Ivanna has worked long hours as a Patient Care Assistant and saved up for a reliable used car, a Nissan Altima. Before that she had been driving an old minivan she borrowed from her father. And recently, they added a new member to their family–a pet hamster named Buddy. It may seem small, but a pet like this represents home and stability.

Ivanna was worried about how their homelessness could affect Carmello, but she says he is thriving. She tried her hardest to make their situation seem better than it really was.

As Carmello gets ready to enter second grade, Ivanna says he’s doing great socially. He makes friends easily at school, and he loves to draw, color, and make things with his clay set.

Ivanna hopes Carmello grows up to appreciate how far they’ve come together.

"I would want him to know that I never gave up on him or us. And that he should never give up on himself or anything in life.”