Sylvan Lebrun, Contributing Photographer

As winter comes and temperatures drop, the onslaught of cold winter months have presented new hurdles for New Haven’s homeless community, prompting some community organizations to ramp up programming to address the crisis.

Connecticut is home to a number of social services agencies and nonprofit organizations that implement a multifaceted approach to helping the city’s homeless population. From providing temporary housing to connecting residents with diversion resources, the network of services caters to a community that is particularly vulnerable to issues like incarceration, mental health problems and substance abuse. During the winter, many organizations have even expanded the capacity of their services while they continue to grapple with greater demand for shelter and food amid a pandemic. 

“The landscape of homelessness has changed in the past two years,” said Steve Werlin, executive director of the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen. “We find that winter has been a more challenging time than it has ever been. We have a lot more people experiencing homelessness in New Haven.”

Here are how three Connecticut social program agencies have been helping.

The Connection

With programs all throughout Connecticut, the Connection is a nonprofit human services agency that works with individuals from a number of disadvantaged backgrounds — not just homelessness. 

Teresa Ferraro, the service area director of behavioral health at the agency, explained that the services offered are made possible by the various types of state and federal funding. The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services has allowed the organization to cater to the homeless and to those struggling with psychiatric disorders, the Department of Correction enables the development of services for those at high risk of incarceration or who have just been released and the Department of Children and Families drives a therapeutic foster care program that matches youth with foster parents, according to Ferraro. 

Specific services are broadened during the winter months. “Our emergency homeless center in Middletown expand by … at least 10 beds … between Nov. 1 and Feb. 1 to accommodate individuals during the cold months,” Ferraro said. She also mentioned other providers in Connecticut that open warming centers for the homeless only in the wintertime. 

Ferraro described a number of ways that an individual at risk can start accessing the Connection’s resources. The person can call 211, the national hotline for essential community resources, where operators can refer them to the Connection, she said. Otherwise, mental health and substance use counseling providers — along with other community partners — can refer someone to any one of the given residential programs at the Connection. 

For services, community members can also dial 855-Help-955 — 855-435-7955 during regular business hours to speak with staff. 

The Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen

Over the pandemic, the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen, or DESK, has changed its dinner program to giving “grab-and-go” meals, where residents wait in outdoor lines for their meal package. 

“We have our flagship program, which is an evening meal dinner program,” Werlin said.

Prepared meals are not the only thing that the organization offers, however. Werlin also described a weekly food pantry program that offers fresh produce, toiletries and clothing, as well as a new drop-in center on 266 State St. that started last April. In addition to being a hub where homeless residents can “hang out” during the day and access free Wi-Fi, this is a place that people can “get connected to services,” case managers and outreach workers, Werlin said. 

This winter, however, Werlin and other staff members at DESK realized that there was not only a “need for resources” to gradually lift people off the streets and into a new life, but also an “immediate need” that required a “purely lifesaving” approach. As a result, the organization started overseeing an overnight warming center earlier this month — allowing the homeless to access short-term emergency shelter.

DESK currently offers nightly dinners at 311 Temple St. on Thursdays to Sundays from 5 to 6 p.m. and at 323 Temple St. at the Yale Community Kitchen on Fridays and Saturdays at the same time.

Youth Continuum

At the Youth Continuum, CEO Paul Kosowsky said that the team’s mission is to “to prevent and address youth homelessness.” 

The community-based, nonprofit agency currently consists of two major wings: child welfare and homeless services. The former features two therapeutic group homes for youth boys, ages 14 to 21. These boys are usually about to re-enter the community after exiting the Department of Children and Families, and staff at the Youth Continuum works with them to find apartments and develop various facets of independent living. Examples of skills that the boys would learn are navigating emergencies, taking public transportation, preparing nutritious meals and managing finances and shopping, according to Kosowsky. An additional youth navigator program works to “divert” youth off the streets by providing one-time emergency monetary funds for things like utility bills, as well as case management resources.

Meanwhile, two street outreach teams in the homeless wing strive to support both homeless youth up to age 21 as well as those who are at a high risk of “human trafficking.” Kosowsky mentioned that these services are supported by a mental health clinician and by counseling programs that specialize in addiction and substance usage. 

This wing also has a drop-in center where youth can “get emergency needs met, from food … to clothing … to diapers for parenting youth,” Kosowsky said. 

Youth who find themselves in a situation in which they need housing for longer periods of time, however, are usually put in one of two crisis housing programs. The first, with four bed availabilities, is for children under the age of 18, allowing a maximum stay-period of 21 days before staff members at the Youth Continuum work to connect them with foster care agencies. The second, with 12 bed availabilities, is for youth from the ages of 18 to 24. They usually stay for no more than 60 days, though they can request an extension of 30 days, according to Kosowsky.

Moreover, there are seven bed availabilities for 18 to 24 year olds who are chronically homeless, which the organization defines as having been on the streets for at least a year, collectively. These individuals must also have a disability. 

For more information on the services offered by the Youth Continuum, community members can call 203-777-8445.

Brian Zhang is Arts editor of the Yale Daily News and the third-year class president at Yale. Previously, he covered student life for the University desk. His writing can also be found in Insider Magazine, The Sacramento Bee, BrainPOP, New York Family and uInterview. Follow @briansnotebook on Instagram for more!