City offers homeless storm support

The New Haven Green, where benches and bus stops traditionally serve as makeshift homes for the city’s homeless, was virtually deserted Monday as the city’s homeless population attempted to escape the weather.

Across the city, homeless residents have taken to shelters, bus stops and covered areas to avoid the onslaught of wind and rain that promises to continue through Tuesday. Homeless shelters that usually close in the morning will stay open throughout the day for the duration of the storm.

In addition to encouraging homeless residents to head to traditional homeless shelters, the city opened an emergency shelter at Hill Regional Career High School that has enough space and supplies for several hundred storm dodgers and serves as an overflow for the homeless shelters. Even so, some homeless residents remain outside as the hurricane bears down on the city.

“The police department has been coordinating with emergency shelter providers,” City Hall spokeswoman Elizabeth Benton ’04 said. “They’re reaching out to anyone in any [homeless] encampments, making sure that they’re safe and directing them to appropriate shelters.”

Rick Fontana, the deputy director of the city’s Emergency Operations Center, said that police officers have been instructed to provide information on the emergency shelters to any homeless residents they see, in addition to visiting what Fontana called “known encampments.”

Columbus House, a homeless shelter with 155 beds on Ella T. Grasso Boulevard in New Haven that normally closes in the morning, is keeping its doors open throughout the day for the remainder of the storm. While it is operating for longer hours, however, it is also doing so with a reduced number of staff due to the difficulty of traveling through the storm.

Nakia Culbreath, an employee at the shelter, said that while there has been an influx of residents since Sunday due to the hurricane’s arrival, there were still open beds.

“We’re not at capacity,” Culbreath said.

In addition to traditional shelters and the emergency shelter at Hill Regional Career High School, the city opened a large space on Lexington Avenue, albeit without beds or supplies, where residents can escape the weather.

Gary Crawford, a homeless veteran and one of the few residents still on the New Haven Green as of late Monday afternoon, chose to ride out the storm in a bus stop on Elm Street. Crawford said that he had not chosen to go to a shelter because the closest one, Immanuel Baptist Shelter on Grand Avenue, was like a prison.

“You have to report. You’re searched down,” meaning strip-searched, Crawford said. “That’s why I say it’s like jail.”

According to the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project, approximately 700 New Haven residents are homeless at any given time.

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