After last week’s winter storm, local shelters and nonprofits have mobilized to help New Haven’s homeless stay warm.
According to local ABC-affiliate WTNH, winter storms brought more than eight inches of snow to the New Haven area last Thursday and several more on Sunday. In response, city officials have been collaborating with local shelters and nonprofits to arrange additional housing for the homeless, causing many of these emergency housing organizations to be filled over capacity.
“It is a resource strain for us, but we want to make sure that people who are highly vulnerable and who are living on the streets have somewhere warm to go,” said Kara Capone SPH ’03, chief operating officer at New Reach, Inc., a housing service that oversees local shelters CareWays, Life Haven and Martha’s Place.
Homeless Coordinator for New Haven Velma George, who works with local shelters and housing agencies to strengthen resources available to the homeless, said that in the days leading up to the storm, the city contacted outreach workers to bring homeless people into shelters or a warming center if they did not want to spend the night at a shelter. Every individual seeking shelter was able to find somewhere to stay, she added.
Capone said New Reach works with local police to track down New Haven’s homeless, especially those in abandoned buildings, and that the nonprofit operates under a cold weather policy that allows anyone in need to seek shelter. She said the New Reach shelters are over capacity because they do not turn anyone away, and that many of these individuals seeking help do not have children.
Alison Cunningham, CEO of Columbus House, another local agency serving the homeless in New Haven and surrounding counties, said her organization takes on additional staff to keep the organization open throughout the day whenever there are poor weather conditions, as well as recruits volunteer groups to serve food to those in need. Should Columbus House have to refer people to other shelters, she said, the organization works closely with city officials such as George.
“[Volunteers] do go out of their way to get here. They are very resilient, and we’re so grateful for everything they do for us,” Cunningham said.
According to Cunningham, severe weather conditions such as hurricanes and heat waves also affect the local homeless population throughout the year, and that preparation and safety are the organization’s top priorities.
Still, some noted that New Haven has a large homeless population, causing housing organizations to be full even under typical weather conditions.
“Regardless of the weather, we’re still full, and I think that speaks to other issues going on within our community,” Capone said. “It goes beyond just weather conditions, and it really has more to do with community conditions.”
Capone said she encourages homeless people to take advantage of resources available to them such as 211, a phone line that can provide information about available shelters. It allows people to have one centralized information service instead of having to call every local shelter individually, she said.
In a Feb. 1 interview with the News, Sarah Guy, quality assurance manager at New Reach, said many homeless youth distrust 211 because they say it does not give them good resources or information.
“This is being addressed and is continually improving,” she added.
The average low temperature in New Haven throughout the month of February is 19 degrees Fahrenheit.