According to the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, the number of homeless households in both Suffolk County and Nassau County has grown 25 percent over the last three years, increasing from 548 households in 2013 to 682 households in 2016.
But, thanks to Community Housing Innovations (CHI), a nonprofit affordable housing and social services agency serving Westchester, the Hudson Valley and Long Island, the Nielsens, a formerly homeless family of four, will have a very merry holiday season in their new home in Mattituck, which they moved into on December 1st.
Five and a half years ago, Regina Nielsen had hit a rough patch. She and her three children found themselves in a CHI emergency shelter - the family was homeless, but Nielsen was celebrating a personal triumph - nine months of sobriety. She also faced the daunting reality of having to travel daily via bus to Stony Brook Hospital to look after her premature baby girl, who had to stay in the NICU for three months. Her son was just one-year-old and her daughter was ten-years-old, at the time.
While living in emergency housing, the family's luck started to turn around when Nielsen was selected to enroll in CHI's supportive housing program with the goal of gaining independence. Through the program, Nielsen was offered affordable rental housing and life skills, job training, and health care aid from her case managers and social workers, as well as access to other local support systems.
"Six years ago, I couldn't imagine being where I am today," Nielsen expressed. "I can never repay CHI for the help they gave me and my family."
Eventually, the family moved out of emergency housing in Middle Island and into a home in East Patchogue that is one of CHI's transitional housing options, and due to a shortage of permanent housing, the Nielsens stayed there an extra two years, during which Nielsen was able to prepare for life beyond CHI.
"From my CHI case managers I learned to set small goals and work my way toward them and that's how I've accomplished a lot of things in the past six years," said Nielsen. "That's what I've taught my children to do too. We stick together and support one another. This growth and change starts in the home."
The all-encompassing assistance CHI provided not only taught Nielsen how to become independent, but it also helped her develop into the kind of parent she has always desired to be. When she learned her oldest child was a victim of bullying, Nielsen dealt with the problem by seeking emotional support from a therapist for her daughter and addressing the issue with the school. That same daughter has since thrived at school and will graduate high school early, and has already been accepted to Jamestown College. Her middle children are also enrolled in school and doing well. Her youngest child, Rayna, has special needs and obtains occupational and physical therapy, as well as schooling that is geared towards her needs.
Now that her children attend school full-time, she is ready and thrilled to begin a full-time job and set a positive example for her children.
"I feel so grateful for my time at the CHI house in East Patchogue," she added. "I had never heard of a program like this that really turned my life around. I hope that house brings as many memories to the next family as it did for mine."
For more information about Community Housing Innovations, visit chigrants.org.
Nicole is the Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com where she focuses on lifestyle, nightlife, and mixology. She grew up in the Hamptons and currently resides in Water Mill. www.hamptons.com