Mayor John DeStefano Jr. entered 586 Ella T. Grasso Blvd. Thursday to recognize the new site of the Columbus House homeless shelter, but despite the snowy conditions outside he was reluctant to take off his coat.
“Is it me or is it cold in here?” DeStefano asked.
After four years of searching for a location, the shelter is anxious to transform the structure into a warm home for New Haven’s homeless.
Columbus House announced Thursday the purchase of the building, formerly the Connecticut School of Electronics, to be the new site of New Haven’s only emergency homeless shelter. Officials expect the facility to allow for the expansion of bed capacity and services offered to clients.
Columbus House Director Allison Cunningham said the site, located several blocks from its current address at 200 Columbus Ave., will enable the organization to provide better services and establish a sense of community.
“We want to expand on case management so we can make appropriate referrals to help people meet their goals,” Cunningham said. “We want to implement new day programs and conference centers in the building as well.”
The site is currently not ready for residency and will undergo extensive renovation, Cunningham said. Columbus House is planning to build an addition to the rear of the structure, enlarging space from 10,000 to 33,000 square feet.
The 101-bed shelter will be located next to a complex housing the Adult Education Center, the New Haven Support Services Job Center and Regional Workforce Development Board, which will give patients access to resources aimed at providing employment opportunities.
DeStefano said the new Columbus House has the full support of the city in its efforts to enhance services for the homeless.
“People in the city have many competing ideas, but this is a project that everyone in the city should agree on,” DeStefano said. “Anything we can do to make this happen, we will.”
State Sen. Martin Looney, who is challenging DeStefano for the Democratic mayoral nomination and also attended the announcement Thursday, agreed that backing the Columbus House shelter is in the best interests of the city.
“Columbus House has an outstanding track record of service, so it’s important we meet their needs,” Looney said. “I’m very happy they found this location.”
Despite local enthusiasm for the project, some retailers near the site are worried about the presence of the shelter.
“If these people start hanging out in front of our stores, no one is going to want to come around here,” said the owner of Dress for Less Clothing, which neighbors the shelter. “If they do, this may not be a safe place.”
Cunningham acknowledged there will always be concerns with a new homeless shelter, but the area has generally been supportive of the project.
Columbus House has maintained its 13,000-square-foot building next to Sacred Heart Church since 1982. The church asked the shelter to relocate several times starting in 1996, and last September Parish officials declined to renew the shelter’s lease so the space could be used for church activities.
After a three month search process, Columbus House agreed to purchase 586 Ella T. Grasso Blvd. for $350,000. The project was approved by the Board of Zoning Appeals in late December. No date has been set for official occupancy.