January 14, 2019
Newsmakers

Richard Cho | CEO, Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness

Richard Cho

Since his time as an intern for the AIDS Housing Corp. in 1999, Richard Cho has focused his career on working to end homelessness.

The Chicago native, who now lives in Hamden, started work as chief executive of the Hartford-based nonprofit Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness in November. As he assumes the nonprofit's corner office, Cho says an important focus will be preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place.

That includes reaching out to state and private partners to see what kinds of resources they're in need of, and using available data to determine homelessness-related issues that have been neglected.

"What is remarkable is that we now have the data to be able to better pinpoint what needs improvement and what specific resources it will take to end homelessness in Hartford and in every region in the state," Cho said.

Cho takes the helm just as Connecticut recorded a 17.4 percent increase in homelessness in 2018, with 3,976 people taking refuge in emergency shelters or transitional housing, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. However, a large number of those dislocated residents included Hurricane Maria evacuees from Puerto Rico, state officials said.

How responsible is the business community in Greater Hartford, or any city, for contributing to solving homelessness and problems associated with it?

We have seen some real leadership in Hartford and around the state on this issue. Local businesses show their support for Journey Home and other members of our coalition. They also support Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness both financially and through our private-sector working group, an innovative group of leaders from companies like Microsoft, ESPN, Synchrony, CT REALTORS Foundation and Bank of America, who meet every other month to help us think about how the business community can play a role in ending homelessness.

How will you engage the business community?

I am interested in my first months to sit down with chief executives and top leadership from Hartford and around the state to think together about how we can work to make homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring for people in our state. Our state's business community has played a role in ending homelessness locally but could do much more.

For example, it has been inspiring to see business leaders from major Hartford companies come together to play a role in revitalizing Hartford through a ground-breaking commitment to making sure that the Hartford Public Library continues to flourish.

What local issues exacerbate and diminish homelessness?

The common denominator is housing insecurity: people already facing a number of other challenges — poverty, job loss, mental illness, domestic violence — reach a point where they not only lose their homes but also lose their ability to re-establish a home. This is exacerbated locally by everything from the shrinking of housing availability at the lower-cost end of the market, landlord practices that lead to evictions, the lack of job opportunities, low wages, and the lack of clear ways to navigate services and systems of help.

Fortunately, we know that the solution to homelessness is to provide varying levels of support and assistance to help individuals and families obtain permanent housing as quickly as possible, while also helping people on the verge of homelessness to keep their housing.

How does homelessness affect businesses in Hartford, or any city/community?

Homelessness is an expensive social problem, placing a strain on public services like law enforcement, first responders and EMTs, as well as emergency rooms, hospitals and jails that are all funded by tax dollars. Not to mention the economic loss associated with people experiencing homelessness not participating in the local economy.

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